This week Major League Baseball’s excellent streaming subscription, MLB.TV, turned 10 years old. To celebrate the milestone, we met CEO Bob Bowman at MLB Advance Media’s offices in Chelsea to talk about what he’s seen in the last 10 years, and where the future of television is heading.
MLBAM is responsible for baseball’s digital operations, which includes live streaming of games, ticketing, online merchandise and much more.
We’ve edited our interview for clarity, and cut it into two parts. The first part, which is about the future of TV, is below. The second part, which is about MLB and how technology has changed in the last 10 years, will be posted shortly.
With reports about Apple moving into the television business, we wanted to hear Bowman’s thoughts on the future of TV. He has built one of the few successful online subscription TV services out there. He knows what it’s like to deal with content providers and distributors.
Here’s what he had to say:
Business Insider: Apple is reportedly ready to jump into the TV market. So far cable companies have done well fending off the rise of the web. Is that about to change? Will cable companies avoid cord cutting?
Bob Bowman: It takes two things to succeed. One is great content, the other is a great interface.
Content providers, including baseball, are not going to offer content here [internet] that upsets a successful model we have over here [traditional tv delivery]. And the traditional model is very successful. I don’t just mean economically. Fans like it. They watch it. They enjoy it. They like the cable model. They like one price fits all. They like that.
The question Apple and others are going to face, is there another model out there where the great content coupled with a better interface can contend with the established model? As of yet, it hasn’t happened.
We’ve always assumed people like to buy everything, we’ve assumed the buffet works, buy everything and use what you wan. The next generation, that may change, but the notion of buying one or two things, I don’t think that’s here today. I’m not sure it will ever be here.
Buying a big bundle, using what you want when you want, which is the underpinnings of cable, I think that’s here for a long time.
BI: But people don’t like paying $100 for cable. It seems like the top complaint is that people don’t want to have to get all of the content, since they don’t watch it all.
BB: It’s interesting. I think that some of that’s true. I don’t think it’s a question of whether some one is going to cut the cord, it’s a question of whether they’re going to attach the cord to start off with. A new young, apartment dweller, 23 year-old out of college, a new media person, he or she may treat it differently.
But that’s why I think cable companies, their stocks have done so well this year. I think they have it coming both ways. If the model stays the same and they keep adding devices, like TV in the home with apps on the iPad, that’s OK. If it ends up going to broadband, they’re OK too. They’re the principle deliverer of broadband and so, I think the really smart cable companies, when you read their releases every 90 days they’re talking about their broadband revenue as much as their TV revenue, so that’s why I think they’re extremely well positioned and it may come to a point, not tomorrow, not next year, but maybe in five years and they’re indifferent.
They’re delivering content, and they’re trying to optimise value. For you, it might be heavily broadband related, and it’s $100 a month, and for someone who is my mother’s age, it’s heavily cable related and that’s $100 a month. I think cable companies are pretty well positioned and I think that’s one reason why their stocks are performing well.
BI: Have you see charts/studies showing that interest in watching TV, what’s actually on the TV, is down because we have so many other outlets?BB: Every household has at least two screens open and it’s almost two screens per person. I know in our household the TV is on, and somebody may be watching it, but everyone has another device open. I think the issue is not so much is the TV on? You look at the ratings, people are still watching, but we’re always doing something else. The notion of multitasking, which is not just for teenagers, everyone is looking at something else. Whether we’re on Facebook, which for me is unlikely, or we’re sending emails, or more likely, watching a baseball game on my iPad, while the family might be watching something else on the TV. I think that’s what’s going on. I think, we haven’t gotten to the point we can successfully measure what people are really doing. One monitor, one TV, might have been the case 20 years ago. Now, there are five screens open. I can’t imagine my daughter walking with a device with something in her hand.
BB: Is this bad for cable?
BI: Again, you need content and delivery. They’re as well positioned as anybody.
If we’re going to spend more time with these devices, we’re going to spend more money.