What Can You Learn From MLB's Digital Content Strategy?

On Oct. 6, 1845, when the first organized baseball game was played in Hoboken, N.J., (the game was three innings, and the final score was 11-8), no one envisioned the multibillion-dollar sports rights deals that are common place now. For reference, NBC paid $1.2 billion for U.S. broadcast rights to last year's London Olympics.

As we all know, appointment television viewing has plummeted with the advent of the DVR and other time-shifting technologies. Brands and advertisers are still grappling with that drop in appointment viewing and how to reach an engaged audience via TV or digital video.

The gap between female and male viewership of televised sports has been shrinking in recent years. The 2011 Super Bowl (Packers vs. Steelers) recorded 54% male viewers and 46% female. Despite that shrinking gap, we do think marketers and brands can learn key takeaways for marketing to men by studying and learning from the digital evolution of Major League Baseball. While some media properties might not have the fan and brand loyalty that MLB does, we can all learn from MLB's digital broadcast and rights strategies.



Ubiquity - Frankly, we're continually surprised at exclusive video content deals. Almost every week, there's a headline of a media company that has ended its deal with Netflix and has signed a new deal with Hulu or Amazon Prime -- or vice versa. 

And, most recently, there has been media coverage of cable networks forging contracts that forbid or tightly restrict streaming content windows and deals. 

While those deals restrict the viewer's choice, MLB has taken the absolute opposite approach, Premium allows you stream every out-of-market game live on 350 different devices. That's not a typo either -- 350 devices and services, including iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, BlackBerry phones, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Roku, TiVo, etc. 

Despite the billion-dollar prices mentioned previously, sometimes media executives may forget the day-to-day realities and budgets of many consumers and viewers. As more consumers cut the cord, many will make a choice for their streaming option - Netflix vs. Roku or Netflix vs. Amazon Prime. In reaching a wide audience with your content, ubiquity has served MLB well, and we think it's a smart strategy.

And, yes, we're not naive, we do understand why Netflix or Amazon are investing in its own content and why Netflix and Amazon is cutting exclusive content deals. They want exclusive content to attract consumers to their service vs. having a content menu that's 100% identical to their competitor. But what's good for a streaming video service isn't necessarily good for a media content company or producer.

Embrace technology - Many video content creators are still taking baby steps into the world of digital video delivery and streaming. At this point, we have to ask, “Why?” Despite Spielberg and Lucas' predictions of theatrical doom, we're living in the future and we're not going back. This is an industry governed by Moore's law, and not only will processor speed continue to increase, but digital will continue to permeate every part of our economy and lives.

MLB has seen the future and embraced it. Its embrace of technology is nothing short of inspiring. Again, this is a sport that's 168 years old.

Here's how MLB has used digital in innovative ways. With Premium, viewers can:

  • Drag and drop a second baseball game into either a picture in picture window or a split screen. Or, watch up to four live baseball streams at once. (Not all these work on every single device).
  • Watch a game, but listen to the radio broadcast as the audio feed.
  • Pitch by pitch widget - track the location, type and speed of every pitch live.

That's just a sampling of how MLB has used technology to showcase the sports content in unique and interesting ways. For years now, we've seen DVD extras. Why not expand those offerings using technology? Instead of presenting a static season's worth of TV shows, what about offering viewers the ability to select every scene featuring a specific actor? Or, expanding on that, what about being able to choose, with one button, to see every action scene in a war movie. Or every kiss in a romantic comedy?

In reality, what we just described isn't really that hard from a technology perspective. A rights holder would need to digitize each scene and mark it with basic meta data -- fight scene, actors featured in this scene, and then you're just pulling those scenes from a back-end database when a viewer makes that unique content choice.

What digital content and broadcast ideas could you learn from MLB and apply to your own digital video content strategy?

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