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Volume 23 No. 29
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MLB local streaming still stuck

No U.S.-based MLB team will have in-market streaming services on Opening Day in April, a development causing mounting frustration among regional sports network executives.

Despite public statements to the contrary, sources familiar with the discussions say MLB and the companies that run RSNs have not made any progress in negotiations since last fall.

Furthermore, several media executives said they are angry that the league is not accepting the same TV Everywhere streaming terms that other leagues and content providers are using. Privately, they say they are skeptical a deal will be completed at all for the 2015 baseball season.

Fox Sports holds the local rights to 15 of MLB’s 30 clubs, NBC Sports Group has six teams, and Root Sports has four. All say talks have reached a stalemate. Even RSNs majority owned by MLB teams, such as NESN in Boston and MASN in Baltimore and Washington, have been unable to fashion local streaming agreements.

Time Warner Cable Sports, which holds rights to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers, was one of the first U.S.-based RSNs to stream NBA games locally with the Lakers. But its executives say they are not close to a deal for baseball.

Bob Bowman, MLB president of business and media, said negotiations have not been overtly hostile, but he declined to place any specific timetable on when something might happen. “We continue to have really deep discussions with our distribution partners,” Bowman said. “The goal here is not to just check off a box, but to have a solution that is fan friendly, can be relied upon and works for all sides.”

The league and its RSN partners were optimistic last fall after MLB and the RSNs reached a general agreement on price, typically the most contentious part of any media rights negotiation. According to several industry sources, RSNs would pay MLB 3 percent of their local rights deals for the ability to distribute digitally within each team’s home market. That figure would then move to 5 percent after several years, sources said.

But a thornier issue of who will own each streaming subscriber and who will service the actual streams remains unsettled. MLB has not moved from its original position that it be allowed to host and manage the streams, and authenticate in-market subscribers through its MLB.TV, which has successfully existed for more than a decade as an out-of-market product. TV networks, though, say that such a demand will kill any deal and runs counter to every other streaming deal they have.

Networks authenticate their streams through cable and satellite operators, and their executives have said that they are not willing to sign off on a deal that would turn over proprietary customer data to allow MLB.TV to authenticate subscribers.

Fox and NBC started streaming NBA games locally this season, and both say they are happy with the initial results, which have showed significant month-to-month growth.