MLB’s partnership with Google rethinks how sport will be watched in the future
When Major League Baseball launched MLB Film Room Powered by Google Cloud last Tuesday, the league handed fans keys to a vault full of more than 3.5 million free video clips dating back nearly a century. It put them in a video curator’s chair for the first time, empowering them with the ability to create personalized highlight reels within minutes that they could then easily share on social media.
While executives immediately saw the product generating increased digital traffic — a 240% boost in users searching on MLB.com’s video portal year-over-year in its first day— the tool represents something much more significant: The foundation of a broad vision that MLB expects will dramatically enhance and reshape the viewing experience for younger audiences.
“You’re going to see more and more personalization,” said Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer. “It’s going to allow you to have a much more individualized experience. That is where we are going. This [Film Room] is the foundation of that, but it’s only going to accelerate from here.”
No specific timeline for those future enhancements is yet in place, and discussions are ongoing about how to integrate facets of it into existing subscription models.
All of the league’s data and anecdotal evidence suggests two defining characteristics of the Generation Z demographic that baseball seeks to attract: Those young adults yearn for personalized experiences and digital communities. With those elements driving their strategy, MLB is working with Google, which in March became MLB’s official cloud services and cloud data and analytics partner for business operations, to use machine learning to unlock a new way to consume live games.
While the popular NFL Red Zone channel escorts viewers to different games whenever teams are positioned to score, baseball executives envision a similar concept but with countless more possibilities. In baseball’s vision, the cut-ins you’d see would be customized and tailored to your favorite team, player or scenario, which your viewing device will immediately know because of machine learning’s ability to recognize your viewing trends.
For instance, if you are a fan of Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, or are intrigued by whether the New York Yankees can secure a postseason berth, simply press play on your phone, iPad or remote control. You’d be shown every Trout at-bat or key moments related to the Yankees’ sliding playoff hopes.
“I’m talking hundreds of options,” Marinak said. “It would be infinitely more in-depth than inside the 20-yard line is [with Red Zone]. Because we know [someone is a] fan of certain teams and certain players, that all comes to them automatically. They don’t even have to click here, here, here, here. The system will know who you are, who you’re interested in and where the state of the games are. It will literally shuffle you around as you go.”
Executives are still uncertain how the concept would apply to MLB.tv subscribers versus the general fan on MLB.com, as they don’t want to undercut their paid offerings. But with the MLB.tv product in 2021, expect some additional capabilities beyond simply offering 15 games on a given night. It will be more personalized, with additional content features customized to a fan’s specific preferences and integrating more personalization aspects across MLB’s website and products, including MLB.tv, MLB.com and its app.
The general long-term concept would also work if fans didn’t get a chance to view live games at night. The next day, they’d be sent a customized highlight reel based on their preferred interests. They could consume reels in just a few minutes instead of searching for video clips from the action they missed.
What’s more, Marinak said because a large segment of the audience seeks a more stat-heavy, interactive experience, the capabilities of Statcast, the automated tool for analyzing player movements and abilities, are viewed as integral. For Opening Day 2020, MLB introduced an upgraded Statcast platform featuring optical tracking sensors from Hawk-Eye Innovations that demonstrated significant accuracy improvements. As it continues to evolve, the possibilities for viewers are endless. The upgraded Statcast features cloud infrastructure from Google Cloud.
“You can imagine a world where it can not only just say, ‘A ball hit in that location with that speed is an out 20% of the time,’” Marinak said. “It can say, ‘With that jump, with that velocity on the throw and foot speed on the turn at second base, that is a double play that only gets turned 3% of the time.’ We’re going from a world where it’s ‘Pick your game and watch for three hours’ to an infinite number of variables. That is where we are going to be headed.”