In what could be a monumental shift in the way users consume sports media online, as well as in the way producers and publishers strike deals to deliver the goods, the Advance Media arm of Major League Baseball will begin streaming content provided by non-other than the Mother Ship herself, ESPN.
From the New York Times:
The unit, Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or MLBAM, will handle the technology infrastructure and customer support for the nearly 3,500 live events that ESPN streams each year, including N.B.A. games, World Cup soccer matches, Grand Slam tennis tournaments and college football games.
The announcement is expected to be done today (no press releases have been issued yet), so details of the deal are limited. According to the NY Times story, ESPN will rebrand it’s unnecessarily restrictive ESPN360.com portal to ESPN3.com (as in the third channel, get it?).
The deal breaks the mold in the way media producers had been publishing content online and it highlights a trend towards the creators of the content becoming their own delivery vehicles (think ABC.com, CBS, Hulu aka NBC) or striking deals with portals such as YouTube, and in this case, MLBAM.
What’s groundbreaking about this deal, however, is the fact that MLB will now become a content delivery platform for other sporting events, potentially dealing a one-two punch to Cable and Satellite. By theoretically wrestling away ESPN360 (which relied on the internet service providers to buy access from ESPN so they could then deliver it to their customers, but we don’t know if ESPN360 is gone altogether see update below, nothing changes on that front), and by migrating more users to the web for a ritual that is intrinsically linked to couches and TVs.
An interesting side story to keep an eye on as more details become available is whether MLB plans to offer some or all of this new ESPN content through its At Bat iPhone/iTouch app. Those of you paying attention would know that MLBAM uses Adobe’s Flash technology for delivering games on desktop web browsers, but has a decent app in the iTunes store that was actually one of the ones featured during the iPad announcement a few weeks ago. Apple doesn’t support Flash on its mobile devices, but MLB.TV will work on the iPad.
This new relationship between ESPN and MLB also underscores the need to put in place rules and regulations that preserve the neutral aspect of access to the internet so that Big Cable doesn’t jack up the price with the tired-excuse of bandwidth limits. Yes kids, this is why we need net neutrality.
Updated with blurb on Apple and MLB’s app.
Update 2: Here are the details, fresh from the press release:
Programming on ESPN3.com will remain the same, with access to replay, HD-quality streaming and milestone markers for select events, geo-targeted ads and more. The network is available at no cost to fans who receive their high-speed Internet connection from an affiliated service provider. It is currently in 50 million households — a majority of U.S. broadband homes — and accessible via dozens of Internet Service Providers nationwide, including AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Comcast, RCN, Insight, Frontier, Cavalier, Charter, Mediacom, Conway, Grande Communications and more.