While we have many problems with the way MLB.com conducts itself concerning its attempts to claim ownership of factual information, you can't deny that (separate from that), it's built up a nice business by really focusing on giving fans what they want in terms of online video. While the product has had technical problems, on the whole MLB.com continues to improve it, adding many unique and useful features, such that it's actually well worth purchasing. If you order the package to watch baseball games, it gives you all sorts of neat tools that can't be found elsewhere, and are great for tracking pretty much any game you want. There are still some problems -- including silly blackout zones (so it's tough to watch local teams) and blackout times when games are being shown on national TV, but on the whole MLB.com has done a pretty good job making the service worth buying.
Compare that to the Premier League in the UK. It's been nearly five years since the league first started freaking out
about people watching unauthorized streams online. But rather than trying to serve those underserved customers
, the Premier League has repeatedly lashed out at anyone who might possibly enable these games to be seen online. For example, it's sued YouTube
apparently unaware that the company is protected by the safe harbors of the DMCA, and (if anyone) it should be going after those who actually upload the games. It's also suing Justin.tv
in the same misguided fashion.
Amazingly, the league seems proud
of the fact that it's going after these companies, rather than the appropriate targets. Jeff T
alerts us to an article in the Guardian which is basically a case study in what not to do about these things
. It hypes up how the Premier League purposely goes after the platform providers, as if that's a good thing. It also (bizarrely) claims that these anti-fan maneuvers are somehow a different and better response than the way the music industry responded to unauthorized file sharing. But that's not true. While it's not suing fans directly, it's still suing to stop fans from doing what they want to do. It's the same exact mistake.
Rather than recognizing the simple fact that the reason
fans watch these streams online is because the Premier League has failed to offer it up themselves
, the Premier League seems to relish the fact that it makes it more difficult for fans to see its product. The article talks about the "Saturday blackouts" on video designed to get more fans to go to matches, without recognizing that such blackouts have been shown to be pointless. There used to be rules for baseball in the US that games that weren't sold out wouldn't be shown on TV, but eventually people realized that people weren't watching on TV as a substitute
for going to the game, but because they love their favorite team and want to watch them however possible. The more they can watch them on TV, the more
interested they are in seeing live games.
Jeff, who sent this story in, makes the point quite clearly, by noting that he watches poor quality streams of Premier League matches in Canada because
the League refuses to make most of their matches available to watch online. Rather than going after the companies that run platforms that enable such things, there's a really simple solution: offer high quality online webcasts yourself, and actually serve the fans. But that seems far beyond the Premier League's strategic thinking.