I’ve been beating the local game streaming drum a lot lately. As have some friends of mine. Meaningful local game streaming, that is. Starting this year some people will be able to watch local games on their devices, but only if they also have a cable plan already. That’s a matter of minor convenience for some people who want to follow a game at the office or who would prefer to sit in a room where their TV isn’t, but it’s not revolutionary. It’s not a game-changer.
And the game must change. Why? Because young people don’t consume media the same way older people do and Major League Baseball risks losing not only the current wave of cord-cutters but also the next generation of people who simply do not care about networks and rights deals. They watch media on their laptops and mobile devices and they don’t differentiate between native web programming, network affiliations or whatever. The combination of that dynamic and the unassailable fact that baseball loyalty and patronage is a primarily local thing makes the ability to for people to watch local games, on their devices, without having to shell out $150 for a cable bundle absolutely essential to the long term health of Major League Baseball. The youth aren’t seeing baseball as easily and freely as they used to. If they don’t see it, they’ll just watch something else. There is no law that says people have to be baseball fans.
To that end, Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio had Astros President Reid Ryan on their broadcast this morning. They asked Ryan, who is part of Rob Manfred’s brain trust when it comes to a host of forward-looking initiatives, about this dynamic. And about how, even though cable deals are a cash cow for the league and its clubs right now, the league is going to address the issue of meaningful local streaming.
In the audio of their exchange below, Ryan acknowledges the issue and said that while it’s certainly the case that MLB’s current prosperity is built on cable, it has to look to the future as well. Ryan says there are several proposals on the table about all of this now and that he believes that within the next 12-24 months or so some movement will be made on the matter.
Credit to Duquette and Ferrin for asking a question that a lot of people, especially people in a media landscape where cable controls most things, don’t often ask. Credit to Ryan for not ducking it and being frank about MLB’s awareness of a problem that presents just as many political headaches as it creates business ones.
How does MLB continue to make those crazy cable dollars while serving people who either don’t want cable or for whom cable is becoming obsolete? How does it make money without alienating business partners? Heck, how does it make money like this in an absolute sense given how much harder it is to make money off of content on the Internet than it is on TV in the first place?
If I knew, I’d be in a boardroom someplace. But I’m glad that the people already in the boardrooms are at least thinking about it.