Streaming Video On Deck For Baseball

Fans looking for live action might not have to search any further than their cellular phone or mobile device next season.

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

October 25, 2005

4 Min Read

Baseball fanatics looking for live action might not have to search any further than their cellular phones or mobile devices next season.

Major League Baseball (MLB) hopes to begin streaming live video in the United States sometime in 2006, said Alex Pigeon, director for international business development for MLB Online Services, Inc., at the Yankee Group Mobile Entertainment Summit in San Diego on Monday.

But that's not all. Wireless will also change the in-park experience. "Kids will have the ability to send text messages in a ball park and see their edited version on the jumbotron," he said. "They'll pull out their cell phones and play a trivia game, and the winner of that game can identify where they're sitting in the stands."

And MLB also is considering electronic ticketing through cellular phones, so fans with season tickets don't grab the wrong day's seats as they're heading out the door to the ball park. global positioning technology also is being considered to provide park goers with multiple camera angles in the stands from their cellular phones. Then there's the ability to play a game during the seventh inning stretch, such as guess the speed of the ball as it comes off White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik's bat.

Watching a live sporting event from a cellular phone or mobile device is the primary driver for consumers willing to shell out $35 extra monthly, beyond the cost for voice service, according to a study conducted by Qualcomm Inc.'s MediaFlo Technologies division, which specializes in technology and services for wireless multimedia content delivery.

"Eleven percent of the survey participants were willing to pay $35 monthly over what they pay for voice service," said Omar Javaid, senior director of business development at MediaFlo Qualcomm, who revealed the results at the Yankee Group conference. "About 90% were willing to pay $10 monthly above what they pay for voice service, and more than 50% were willing to pay up to $20 a month more." Pigeon said MLB recently signed a deal with Idetic Inc.'s MobiTV to stream video clips to cell phones. The deal gives Idetic the rights to distribute archived video highlight clips from games that have already broadcast on TV, as well as live video, to wireless subscribers.

Sure, streaming bits and pieces or delayed video isn't all that impressive. Consumers want live real-time content. MLB did work with the San Diego Padres to remove some broadcast restrictions to run streaming video from, and began streaming live content to cellular phones in Korea last year. But that only worked because the carriers in Korea have the infrastructure that can handle the data streams, said Pigeon.

Still, to get the kind of data rates required for a clean picture in the U.S. there's work to be done. For one, U.S. telecommunications carriers must build up the infrastructure to handle live video, said Dan Zucchi, executive director at Telenity, which provides services, applications and delivery platforms for wireless and wireline networks. "To deliver the content, data needs to travel at 256 kilobits per second, but today average is about 56 kilobits per second," Zucchi said. "The basic infrastructure, for parts of the network, has been installed at some carriers such as Sprint, Verizon, and Cingular, but more work is required."

Carriers are spending billions to upgrade their networks, and consumers should expect improvements in 2006. But an even bigger issue with streaming live video in the U.S. is that carriers don't have the technology to honor blackout zones as per the FCC's sports blackout rule, if a television station has an exclusive agreement to broadcast the baseball event, for example. Carriers don't have the location-based systems required to identify where the subscriber is receiving the signal and block them out, similar to blocking a signal from a consumer viewing video over the Web.

Live games are delivered through the Internet, where blackout restrictions and controls can be enforced through an IP address in areas where the baseball game is being televised.

Streaming live sports content to cellular phones and wireless devices still might be a pipedream in 2006. The infrastructure might not be ready. "You might have spotty service in some major towns throughout the U.S.," said Zucchi. "And most likely it won't be live… you'll probably have at least a five minute delay."

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