Major League Baseball started offering live online streams of its games 10 years ago this week.Think about where we were 10 years ago. Broadband wasn’t nearly as pervasive. There was no iPhone, or iPad, or Facebook. Google was just starting.
In short, the tech world was a very different place.
But, as the web, and technology have grown, so too has MLB’s digital content.
We met with Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB’s digital operations to talk about where the company has been and where it’s going. (This is part two of our talk. The first part of our interview is here.)
Here are the bullet point takeaways from our talk:
- He says he’s somewhat shocked that there isn’t a Hulu-like service that aggregates live coverage of events.
- He’s attributes MLB’s digital success to Bud Selig, Steve Jobs, and loyal fans.
- Pretty soon we’re going to have a generation that’s as old as the web, and those people will create all sorts of incredible applications we can’t think of now. (“There may be 100 more Zuckerbergs in the next 10 years where everyone is doing stuff like this.”)
Here is our full interview, lightly edited for clarity:
Business Insider: Year 10, what’s different? Is this where you thought you’d be? Is it a shock?
Bob Bowman: No, it’s not a shock. In some ways I wish it was more. When we started off, no one was doing video of any kind. There was some free video, but no one was doing pay video. And now in the one sense I’m stunned how much people are doing this both free and pay. Pleasantly so. The pay market though has developed extremely well for us, millions of subscribers, we’re at record levels, we’re up 40% in terms of subscriptions, so it’s going extremely well.
The only cloud around that silver lining is there’s still not multiple offerings. Hulu did it nicely, but that’s on demand, Netflix did it nicely, but those are all long tail, all on demand, nothing live, and no one’s really done it live. So that’s the one thing I wish had developed, and still may.
BI: You want to see something more like cable, but online?
BB: No, more like the way Hulu works, but for live content. Hulu was created to take all these assets that you could find other places, but they put it all together and it had a slick interface. Netflix, you can find a lot of that stuff online, but they put it all together.
So, what I’m saying will the day come when MLB, NHL, NBA, all take their offline packages and put them all together into one offering? They’ll still have their own offering, but they’re will be one offering and there will be one-stop shopping for live. That wouldn’t have to be just sports, that could be a lot of things.
BI: What holds that back from happening?
BB: There are a lot of important players. People who create content, people who own the content. The people who deliver it which is the cable companies, the satellite companies. So there’s a lot of moving parts. Ultimately, I think it will happen. Netflix, Hulu are examples of how it can work. NBA’s League Pass, our MLB.tv proves there is a desire out there for live coverage, but how they marry, I don’t know.
BI: What has driven MLB AM’s success?
Number one, we’ve had great fans, and we’ve had the out of market games. They are avid about baseball. Without the fans, nothing starts. We were ahead of everyone because we had a commissioner who saw ahead. Not just ahead of other commissioners, but media companies. He saw it before anybody. Third, and where I think your question was really aiming, we’ve been blessed with a bias toward broadband, toward instant delivery. In 2002, people thought we were going to be a backward nation of broadband. Not so much anymore. When you look at what you can get at your house or at work, almost everyone is connect to broadband at some point today. Even more so than cable.
We were blessed with Steve Jobs. The notion that content is mobile and your life is mobile really didn’t exist until Steve Jobs made it so, and we can’t understate that. Finally, we been blessed with the backend technology. To deliver true high def which we couldn’t do until three years ago, onto a device so people say, “wow!” and people turning the device around, the iPhone, iPad, laptop around, and saying, “look at this,” that is because we can deliver high def. Don’t fight technology. It is the 800 pound boulder coming down the hill. We’ve been behind it, not in front of it.
BI: What happens in the next 10 years?
BB: We wan to figure out new pricing models. Is there a way to sub divide the season? Can you go to per game usage? Truly a la carte? Probably not, but we want to explore that.
Social media quickly evolves. We haven’t totally integrated that, I don’t mean Facebook, but how people communicate while they’re watching something. I think that’s coming up.
It’s still the internet, and there are 15 hand offs from the ballpark to your computer or phone. And TV’s not. We’d love to start eliminating hand offs so reliability will continue to increase.
BI: It’s a tough question, right?
BB: The web as we know it started in 1994. So, it’s only as old as my daughter, who is entering college. It’s just 17 years old. What that means when that generation is 30 and running the world, we just don’t know. We don’t know how pervasive, or what it might become.
Having an iPhone, or having a wireless connection is not exactly new to them. If they don’t have them, they’re suffocating. If our wifi goes down in our house, it’s like no one can breathe. “Dad, where’s my air?”
We put Zuckerberg and his ilk on a pedestal, justifiably so, because of what they’ve done, but they might become a dime a dozen, there may be 100 more Zuckerbergs in the next 10 years where everyone is doing stuff like this.
More from our talk with Bowman: Why People Like Cable, And Why The Cable Companies Aren’t Screwed Like The Music Industry Or Newspapers