No, you probably haven’t heard of Boxee, and most of you probably won’t use it at any point in the near future. But this is a very significant move for MLB, in that it’s clearly saying it doesn’t care if you watch baseball through MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings. That may not go over so well with cable providers, who agreed to put MLB Network on their basic tiers, in exchange for some equity and an agreement that MLB wouldn’t give DirecTV the exclusive rights to EI. Now, MLB has taken the first step toward making EI obsolete, leaving the providers behind.
This is obviously the right business decision, since MLB doesn’t need to share profits from MLB.tv like it does with EI. And it’s another step toward the inevitable future of sports broadcasting, where the leagues broadcast the games themselves and distribute them over the internet. But it’s still interesting, since most old media companies tend to stick together, and MLB is doing the exact opposite.
Note that Hulu, which is owned by Fox, NBC, and ABC, still refuses to make itself available on Boxee — its owners / content providers are clearly uncomfortable with the idea of you watching TV programming on your TV, if it’s distributed over the web. After all, if you had the option of watching their programs on demand, and on your TV instead of your PC, why would anybody buy cable?
But the cable providers should probably be more concerned about people watching sports on the web than scripted programs. A lot of people will keep cable as long as its the sole provider of live sporting events, even if every single episode of every scripted show is on the web on demand.
It’s not that the cable business will just die; the technology is still very powerful, and it is incredibly ingrained in our society. But that $100+ / month service bill… that’s probably on its last legs.
There’s a whole post to be written about the Comcast / Time Warner Cable “TV Everywhere” concept that was announced today, but that’s for another day. For now, it seems like MLB really gets it, at least on this issue, and they’ll be much better off for it in ten years.
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