And away we go. Techdirt (myself specifically) has been talking for some time about the impending expansion of major sports streaming options as the cord-cutting trend has continued. It only makes sense: leagues and marketers will go where the audience is. The most recent trend started slowly with the FCC voting to end its blackout rule. That decision was important for streaming, because one of the dumbest ideas that migrated over from broadcast and cable television was the idea that local blackouts of broadcasts and streams were in any way a good idea. Even as the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB all have incrementally increased streaming options, those efforts have continued to be hampered by local blackout restrictions.
Well, Major League Baseball just took a giant step over the blackout line and is now effectively straddling it, announcing that local streaming will be available in fifteen markets in the 2016 season.
There is no specific timetable for a potential announcement of a deal between FOX and MLB. The two sides hope to complete the agreement around the end of this season, which would give the league and RSNs a full offseason to market the availability of the new local streams before Opening Day 2016. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, working with the league’s president of business and media, Bob Bowman, has made in-market baseball streaming a key league priority, including personally participating in several negotiating sessions.
Per the above, this specific deal is going to be done with MLB teams that have broadcasting deals with Fox. But don’t think for a single moment that that’s where it ends. Even if MLB can’t get similar deals in place for the other half of teams in the league, which would fully free up the fantastic MLB.TV product for local streaming, any modicum of success that Fox has with this program will be immediately adopted by the other broadcasters. They really don’t have a choice. Cord-cutting isn’t going away and it’s been professional and college sports that have long kept subscribers tethered. The trickle of streaming options in sports has been turning into more of a deluge, and the cable industry should be expecting some tough times ahead in the next, oh, say three to five years. Because if Manfred has this on his priority list for MLB, please believe that the commissioners in the other leagues have it on theirs as well.
And when sports streaming really gets going, it’s the end of cable as we currently know it.