SBJ/Jan. 13-19, 2014/Media

MLBAM’s new deal with The Whistle includes tech component

Youth sports digital programmer The Whistle has signed a multiyear content and technology deal with MLB Advanced Media, which will also support the company’s video streaming efforts.

The pact with MLBAM, baseball’s digital arm, extends an accelerating run of league-level partnerships for The Whistle that also has included the NFL, NASCAR, the PGA Tour and Major League Lacrosse, among others. But the baseball deal expands significantly beyond many of the others, given that MLBAM also will serve as a technology partner to The Whistle, aiding on the company’s video initiatives as well as helping design user experiences for online and mobile platforms.

A baseball partnership has been a key priority for The Whistle.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but similar to other league partnerships The Whistle has signed, MLBAM will acquire a minority equity stake in the company. MLBAM provides video support for a growing number of non-baseball clients, including Southwest Airlines and Glenn Beck, and it will be involved in Sony’s forthcoming cloud-based, multichannel TV service announced last week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Since The Whistle’s formation in 2011, a baseball partnership was a key priority for the company given its target demographic of youths 8-14, and former MLB President Bob DuPuy is a company adviser and investor. But creating a significant deal that included both content development and technology elements required extensive discussion.

“It was sort of a situation where we both needed to be ready and time had to be right,” said Jeff Urban, The Whistle co-founder and chief marketing officer. “But we look forward to leaning on their expertise and continuing to build out our content.”
MLBAM executives declined to comment.

The MLBAM deal arrives at a key point in growth of The Whistle, which recently launched The Whistle Network, a multichannel, YouTube-based network combining content from both its league partners and independent entities such as basketball trick shot outlet Dude Perfect. The Whistle also intends to bring video from individual athletes and brands into its network.

The creation of The Whistle Network represents a further commitment to a digitally focused content distribution strategy. The company originally planned to create a linear TV network but roughly two years ago began to pivot away from that. Helping support that strategy was a research study conducted by Chicago-based Navigate Research. Its findings show that aggregate viewership in live games of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS among youths 6-17 has fallen by 16 percent since 2009.

“We were certainly prepared to go and create a linear network and head down that road, but more and more, these other platforms, particularly YouTube, are where kids are spending their time. And it’s global,” said John West, The Whistle co-founder and chairman.

The Whistle is also readying a broad launch on the Xbox Live platform later this year.

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