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At Last, Some MLB Blackouts About To End

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It's not every blackout. But it's a step in the right direction.

In an ideal world, every major-league baseball fan would be able to watch any game, anywhere, on any device, as long as he or she was willing to pay for it.

You can't do that now; in fact, if you subscribe to MLB Extra Innings or MLB.tv, your rights to view blacked-out games go only so far as your cable cord, your satellite dish or your home internet connection. For example, I subscribe to those services, yet if I'm at Wrigley Field, I can watch any game... except the one I'm attending. It would be nice to be able to check out a replay of a play that's being reviewed, for example, on my phone. I can't do that.

This might be about to change, writes Maury Brown at Forbes:

The digital media company of Major League Baseball is close to relaxing blackout restrictions for games streamed to computers and mobile devices. Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media reiterated in an interview with The Associated Press that the gap continues to close in which those currently affected by blackouts of games in the local television market would be able to watch the streamed games. While it’s too early to speculate on the timing of when this might happen, it could come as early as next season. Bowman has said that having the blackouts relaxed would be a “nice retirement gift for Commissioner Selig.” Selig is set to retire in January of 2015 and the blackout policy is MLB’s #1 customer complaint.

“Everyone’s trying to solve it,” Bowman said to The AP. “If our hands were 4 feet apart three or four years ago, they are now 6 inches apart,” Bowman said. “We’re moving in the right way. We continue to talk. The dialogue is professional.”

Brown writes that this kind of viewing could possibly be handled through verification that you are a subscriber to a local cable provider that you're already paying for to see games on your television. This is already done for services like HBO GO -- if you have a Comcast subscription, for example, you can log in on your mobile device with your Comcast account credentials and watch all the HBO programming you can see at home.

Presumably, it'd work similarly; since I can watch Cubs games on my home TV through my Comcast subscription, I'd use that login to verify my subscription and then I could watch Cubs games on my phone (or iPad) at the ballpark.

This doesn't solve the overall blackout issue -- the RSN territorial-rights issue that prevents people in multi-team-claimed markets like Iowa and Las Vegas from watching games of up to six teams. Given this quote from Brown's article:

What will be interesting is how this all plays out as more and more “cut the cord” moving away from broadcast television and getting all their content streamed online. And beyond those that have had television and are cutting, there are those that never have had television and have used the internet exclusively for streaming content. Those people will all be left out in the cold with the “prove you have this on television” model that affects not only MLB but streaming sports content as a whole. That appears to be a new problem replacing an old one as technology shifts.

... that's going to become contentious as fewer and fewer people subscribe to a cable system that has an RSN. What the long-term solution to this is, I don't know, and it appears MLB and MLB Advanced Media folks are still trying to figure it out, too.

Related to this, it now appears likely that this year's postseason games are going to be streamed live:

... this year, MLB.TV streamed the All-Star Game live for the first time. The game was broadcast on Fox television, and online viewers had to prove they had a cable or satellite TV package that includes Fox. It's similar to how the Olympics and World Cup games were made available online.

Baseball has similar plans for the playoffs and the World Series, which will be split on television between Fox, ESPN and Turner. Viewers will need to have ESPN on TV to watch ESPN games online and can't watch Turner games if they don't also get Turner channels. Cable and satellite packages typically include all three, though. To make it easier for viewers, baseball plans to come up with a way for users to sign in to all three at once.

Same concept -- you have a cable/satellite subscription that gets ESPN, Turner and Fox, you'd sign in and be able to watch on your mobile device.

This is a step in the right direction and I applaud MLB for doing it. Now let the good folks in Iowa watch the Cubs and they'll be all set.