LA PORTE, Ind. (AP) — Major League Baseball shows what can be done right when it comes to making its games available on the Internet. It also underscores frustrations fans have with online sports coverage in general: The business of sports is set up to feed TV sets, and Internet viewers are an afterthought.
Television channels pay a lot for rights to cover games, and they don't want to lose audiences to computers or mobile apps. As a result, fans who pay $20 or more a month for baseball's online video package, MLB.TV, are blocked from games involving hometown teams.
Until that changes — and that might come soon — MLB.TV is likely to appeal mostly to die-hard fans who care about more than just their hometown teams. A much-cheaper At Bat offering is available for casual fans like me.
With MLB.TV, I was able to catch a New York Mets-Yankees game as I traveled through Indiana by train this spring, but the option was yanked the next evening after my train arrived in New York.
Then again, had the Mets played the Chicago Cubs, I would have also been blocked in La Porte, Indiana, because it's consider part of Chicago's television market. In addition, some weekend games are blacked out more broadly because of national or regional TV coverage.
Fortunately, the blackouts are starting to ease: Baseball offered live streaming of the All-Star Game for the first time last month and has similar plans for the playoffs and the World Series. This week, baseball's online chief, Bob Bowman, told me he's optimistic a deal can be reached soon to lift blackouts on regular season games as well, possibly by the 2015 season.
The catch: You'll need a cable or satellite TV package that includes the channel that normally televises hometown games. That'll likely be the case even if the channel is already offered over the air for free.
You're basically paying twice — for the cable or satellite subscription and for the MLB.TV service.
The basic MLB.TV service costs $20 a month is mainly for personal computers. The MLB.TV Premium package permits viewing on phones, tablets, game consoles, streaming TV devices and other gadgets. It costs $25 a month.
With the Premium service, you can also choose which team's television feed and announcers you want. On some devices and Web players, there are also options to get the radio broadcasts while watching the television feed, or to get the ballpark's natural sound and mute chatty announcers.
Video of blacked-out games is available about 90 minutes after the game ends. You can also listen to home or away radio broadcasts live, even for hometown teams.
One of my favorite features is the condensed video, which is available a few hours after a game ends and includes hometown teams. It strips out all the nonsense, such as warm-ups, commercial breaks and inconsequential pitches, so a three-hour game takes only about 15 minutes to watch. You still see every major play, along with occasional replays in slow motion, but you won't get every ball and strike. If 15 minutes is still too much, a shorter highlights video is available.
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