With Opening Day of the 2011 Major League Baseball season set for Thursday, MLB.tv., the sport's out-of-market streaming package, is about to step to the plate for a ninth season.
Bob Bowman, president and CEO of MLB Advanced Media, said the product, whose rookie year was in 2003, will attract 1.5 million-2 million subscribers during the upcoming season. It's a number MLBAM would clearly like to expand.
"That's only 5% of those who visit our site [MLB.com]," he said during his keynote interview at "Video Everywhere: Who's Cracking the Code?" conference Wednesday afternoon here. The event was sponsored by Multichannel News and B&C as part of their "Television Industry Leadership Series."
Bowman said that MLB.TV is available to virtually all hand-held mobile devices, with the Android platform stepping to the plate for a full season, after a September call-up in 2010.
Unlike the iPhone, Android has six operating systems. "That's not bad, but it's suboptimal," Bowman said, explaining that it required additional vetting.
He said MLBAM had to make sure the proper infrastructure was in place to ensure that its patented geo-location technology, which ensures that MLB.TV viewers are not getting games in market, functions so as not to abrogate the appropriate holders' rights.
Bowman said MLBAM has always erred on the side of caution in making sure that its encryption was secure with distributors and that all of the rights lined up.
Which is the reason why Bowman was somewhat perplexed -- when asked by Multichannel News editor in chief Mark Robichaux, who conducted the interview at the Roosevelt Hotel -- by Time Warner Cable's video streaming iPad app that is offering 32 networks. It's a gambit that has been met with scrutiny in the media and distribution communities and prompted outcries by some programmers.
"I'm not certain about the rights they hold, but their approach is interesting: 'We'll get it right later.' We've never done anything unilaterally, We always pass things on to our partners for testing, so we understand the rights, and take things down" if they're not ready, he said. "I'm not sure I understand [Time Warner Cable's] theory of service, or the process, but with our service we work with a panoply of players to make sure it's right."
That said, Bowman noted that MLBAM has "no quarrel with Time Warner Cable because they are not streaming baseball games."
The complexities involved with bridging the rights/needs of teams, regional sports networks, distributors, MLB and BAM have limited local market streaming to the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres.
"We've only done two cities thus far. Trust me, it's complicated," he said on the dais.
Afterward, Bowman was asked if he expected to see more action from this side of the streaming field this season. He said talks continue with Fox, "where we might be able to get 13 teams. But [Fox Sports Net president] Randy [Freer] gets most of his money from [subscriber fees].