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May 29, 2006

The Ledger Domain

MLBAM Wants You Wired

by Maury Brown

[Ed. note: Today we debut Maury Brown's weekly business of baseball column, called The Ledger Domain, which will run every Monday throughout the year.--JDE]

Not in Larry McPhail's wildest dreams.

The hard-drinking former owner--who once punched a sports writer during the Yankees' celebration of winning the '47 World Series--was truly a visionary when it came to promoting games. If it wasn't the first night game in the majors, it was televising the first MLB game on August 26, 1939.

But McPhail's dream of launching into the world of television never included this…

picture 1

Coming soon to a computer near you will be the ability to watch up to six games on the screen, select the audio you want for those games, pull up stats from a custom list of players you are interested in tracking, and get alerts on games around the league.

Can't afford MLB Extra Innings? Here's a place in-between. Stuck in a Billings hotel on business with too much espresso in your system? Plug in the laptop and glaze over with your baseball fix well into the night:

picture 2

It's split-screen on steroids.

On April 10th of this year, MLB Advanced Media and Portland, OR-based Ensequence, a provider of interactive TV authoring software and services, announced a partnership deal that will allow this revolutionary way of getting your extreme MLB fix online.

Set to launch shortly, those who log onto MLB.com--and are MLB.TV subscribers--will have the option of downloading Ensequence's on-Q® Ready Broadband Edition player, which runs on the client's PC to gain access to this new interface.

Initially, the platform will support Windows Media content for XP (WMV), with Macintosh OS X (WMV first, and Quicktime later) and MPEG4 support arriving shortly. The announced name of the product available to MLB.TV subscribers will be MLB.TV Mosaic.

Aslam Khader, the VP of Marketing for Ensequence explains, "Once the user has logged in and downloaded the player, upon launch the user can select between different Mosaics with up to six games being displayed. By doing a mouseover on a selected game being streamed, the audio for that game is played."

Mr. Khader has said that the interface design option being explored by MLBAM is to present regional "Mosaics." As shown in the above image, the user could view West, East, or Central mosaics to browse which games they may wish to watch. Double-click on a streaming thumbnail and you're in ¾ screen view. From there, the user can go full-screen. Users would not be held to watching only games within just those mosaics.

Any games not being blacked out via MLB.TV feeds would be available.

To add to this experience, other rich interactive content will be displayed.

Updates for a particular player being highlighted as an alert will be displayed at the bottom of the viewing window. By clicking on the alert, the user will then access the game related to that player.

The initial launch will have stats similar to what is displayed on MLB.com's Gamecast within the interface: Batting and Pitching stats. The application also will allow the user to create a custom list of players and their stats in the interface for fantasy league tracking purposes.

picture 3

Currently, the product is in beta test mode, with approximately 1000 MLB.TV subscribers providing feedback. MLBAM wants to ensure that all the bugs are out of the system before full product release.

And while MLBAM wants to own your broadband computer, the real underlying area of interest may be your television, or handheld device.

Ensequence's initial area of expertise has been content delivery for television through the various proprietary platforms, be that Dish Satellite, or set-top boxes for cable. While MLBAM has said that TV is the domain of "245"--as in 245 Park Avenue, the Office of the Commissioner--it's clear that MLBAM's choice of this flexible product was designed to allow MLB the option to not only take over your computer, but also your television.

The key to this content delivery platform is that it is based on a "write once, run anywhere" architecture. It is the installation of the on-Q players which virtually runs the proprietary code that Ensequence uses for the Mosaic interface. They already have such players for Dish Network, Scientific-Atlanta and Comcast set-top boxes.

As Mr. Khader explains, "It was this aspect of our product that was of high interest to MLBAM."

As MLBAM continues to explore other methods of providing content for baseball fans, it may be that this system will continue to be placed in expanding platforms, due to the portability aspect of it.

This flexibility could be seen in IP TV, cell phone, or other handheld technologies.

The question is, what is MLBAM's long term strategy for MLB.TV Mosaic?

"Initially, we see this as a baseball product," said Jim Gallagher, Sr. Vice President of Corporate Communications for MLB Advanced Media. "We see it as a way of offering something that is new, fun, and exciting for the fan that's heavily interested in MLB."

MLBAM sees other uses for the product, as well.

Over time, MLBAM has diversified into delivering not just baseball or other sports offerings, but a broad stable of music artists, as well.

As Mr. Gallagher explains, "The Mosaic product could be used for MLSnet.com and World Championship Sports Network (WCSN), which are now both controlled by MLBAM. Whether it would lend itself to working with concert feeds would have to be explored. While sports provides extended viewing time where the use of the six screens could be deployed, it may not lend itself in a concert setting where performances of songs are of a much shorter duration."

As for the future of content deployment for MLBAM, Gallagher says it doesn't end here. What's coming in the future?

"We're on the verge of making every game, respective of the blackout areas, available to listen to on your cell phone," the VP of MLBAM said. "We're working with Verizon to allow a user the ability to select Home, Away, or Spanish language audio feeds for each game."

Beyond audio, MLBAM is working on making game highlight video available to your video enabled cell phone in the near future as well, with the plan to go to full game video shortly thereafter. The technical issue with this is determining where a call is placed from and how that fits into the blackout areas. MLBAM is still working on resolving this technical issue. Many have suggested solutions for restructuring or removing MLB's convoluted blackout restriction policy, but that's for another column.

So, there will be no respite for the baseball junkie. Anywhere you're connected, MLB wants to be there. They plan on tempting you with treats non-stop. And, let's be honest, many of you here want that fix.

It's amazing that MLBAM has only been in existence since June of 2000. Also amazing that it was the brainchild of Bud Selig, along with Bob DuPuy and Jerry Reinsdorf. "We need to get out in front of the internet," Selig said before working to create MLBAM and making it a limited partnership between all the owners. It's grown into a technology juggernaut and a significant central fund revenue stream for MLB.

Selig and the wired world... Who'd have thunk?

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

Related Content:  MLB,  Mlbam,  Mlb.tv,  Mlb.com

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