Digital veterans may recall that across the history of online media, sports publishers tended to be on the leading edge of Web technology. Driven by a passionate audience for whom more is always more when it comes to content, companies like ESPN stayed out in front when it came to pouring video online. Fantasy sports providers have always been among the most successful paid content winners. And niche players like The Sporting News were among the first to marry online community and content to the best effect. And so when it comes to mobile media it is not surprising that sports media like ESPN are among the most trafficked mobile sites. In addition, MLB.com created mobile video early and strong with its At Bat series of apps. These apps, now on Apple iOS, Android and Blackberry, give fans an amazing, custom view on the season. The Spring Training iteration of At Bat '11 is in the app stores now and it will give users 150 pre-season games via live streams as well as radio broadcasts and batter-by-batter action.
I am an ignoramus when it comes to sports and even I can tell that this is mobile media done right. The iPad app ($14.99 for the season) is customizable so users can access their favorite teams at a glance. Other media moving to the iPad could learn a few things from At Bat. MLB has truly integrated the video on almost every screen. The News section for instance is filled with embedded video that plays on page and is surrounded by article text surrounding text. The user can elect to drop into the video, but when he does the experience really delivers more and different information. The pages are done in landscape mode and minimize the number of articles per page for easier browsing. In fact, At Bat seems to be better adapted to a 9.7-inch (or smaller) touch screen than most magazine and newspaper apps I have seen. And the touchability follows through with the advertiser, Mastercard. The credit card sponsor is present on virtually every page. The ad offers a clear user benefit (20% off on MLB.com orders) and clicks through to a Web experience that is also optimized nicely for touch screens.For good reason, MLB's At Bat has been a favorite with smart phone and tablet users since it launched. The 2011 version released last week has already climbed to the lead of the top grossing apps in the iPad and iPhone App Stores and it is among the top paid apps across all platforms. Consumers are rewarding value. As other cable and network properties contemplate what TV everywhere should look like on devices, they could do worse than follow MLB's approach.