During baseball’s off-season, only the true baseball fanatics and baseball insiders watch what’s going on with the sport. Otherwise, most people limit their attention to the players being signed by their local teams or perhaps players that their rival teams are signing, but mostly are just waiting for the regular season or spring training to begin.
So an article last week in Forbes flew a bit under my radar. During the regular baseball season, consumers are blocked from watching local games online. But a possible deal between Fox Sports and Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) might alleviate this situation and make local MLB games available online to about 40% of local markets, where games are broadcast on regional sports networks owned by Fox and carried on pay TV. Access by consumers would still be closely controlled: Fox would require ‘TV Everywhere’ authentication through local pay TV operators before granting access to the programming.
Access to live programming from the TV networks over the Internet is already gated. For example, if I want to watch a live feed from my local ABC affiliate, I am asked for my location and then told that my local feed is (or is not) available, based upon the streaming arrangements in local markets. (And of course because of the Aereo decision, there is no such thing as a local online aggregator, which is why DISH’s new Sling TV doesn’t include local).
Tying user authentication to pay TV operators could also give Fox greater leverage in negotiating carriage deals with those operators. For example, “Dear (local pay TV operator), we demand a higher retransmission fee (per-subscriber-per-month) this year, and we’ll yank our programming not only from TV, but also shut down your subscribers’ access to the authenticated streams if you don’t accept our terms.”
This has already happened with Fox in other cases.