How Cubs Insider Kinda-Sorta Helped Make MLB.tv Better

Like the combined forces of SETI, this whole blogging thing often feels like you’re just sending little signals out into the void and hoping to get a ping in return. Perhaps that’s why it’s so fitting that dropping a goofy line about a Wookiee living on Endor got a hit. And a pretty significant one, at that.

Tucked into the latter portion of my review of the steaming pile of pony loaf that is MLB.tv’s Follow Your Team feature, the line was more a nod to South Park than Star Wars. But it’s at least moderately funny either way, I suppose. This particularly tasty nugget of pop culture goodness was loosed in response to how the various restrictions imposed by the ballyhooed subscription service render it damn near unwatchable for some fans.

Not only do you need to subscribe to a local RSN, but you need to be physically within the broadcast territory of said RSN (more on that below). And as if that’s not enough, “Games available through Follow Your Team will be available for online viewing only (not available on mobile or connected devices [emphasis mine]).” While the rest of it is hot garbage, that last part doused it all in kerosene and set it ablaze.

Hence my response:

What in the actual eff? Even if you’re willing and able to clear those first few hurdles, this last one is a real doozy. This makes less sense than a Wookiee living on Endor, since virtually the whole point of MLB.tv is to be able to watch wherever I want to.

If I have to subscribe to the RSN, it means I’ve got at least one television at home. Then I’ve got to be physically in the territory of said RSN and can’t watch on my mobile device, which means I’m probably stationary. And when you take into consideration the restrictions on streaming many workplaces enforce, it means I’m probably watching at home. Where I have a TV. That has access to the game.

MLB.tv’s Follow Your Team add-on allows people who already have access to a local broadcast of their favorite out-of-market team playing their in-market team to pay $10 for the privilege of watching that same game on their computer. It’s not quite a Nigerian prince or a random friend you’ve not spoken to in years reaching out for help after being mugged in Europe, but this feels kinda scammy. Ain’t technology grand.

Okay, so remember way back at the start of this when I said sometimes someone out there is listening? In this case that someone was Ned Diver with the law firm of Langer, Grogan, & Diver P.C., representatives for the plaintiffs in the Garber v. Major League Baseball case that established the amended parameters of MLB.tv’s service last year.

Evan, I am an attorney in the Garber v. Major League Baseball case, whose settlement created Follow Your Team. Settlements by nature are compromises, so the resulting product is less than perfect, as you have recognized. One limitation that was not included in the settlement, however, was that it be available only on the web and not on mobile and connected devices. We recently moved to enforce the settlement to address this, and included a quote from your article in our court filing (yes, the one about wookiees on Endor). I thought you should be first to know that, as a result, the league has now removed this restriction [emphasis mine]. The authentication requirements and limitations still exist, but at least those who qualify and pay $10 will not get a degraded product.

I really couldn’t have found a better quote for the brief. We withdrew the motion yesterday because they agreed to make it available on all devices (and showed us the agreements that are discussed in the first part of the brief).

Boom! The little guy got over on The Man, even if it was just a short jab to the shoulder. As you can see from Mr. Diver’s message, some of the restrictions on FYT remain in force, but it’s nice to know that at least the most egregiously awful of them has been removed. I’ve included the salient portion of the filing below, but if you’re interested in checking out the full text, you can do so here (main discussion of FYT begins on page 8, my quote is on page 12).

In a recent review of the product entitled, “MLB.tv’s ‘Follow Your Team’ Feature Still Stinks, Misses Opportunity to Grow Fans,” after the author lamented each of the restrictions that arise from the settlement agreement, he concluded with what he described as “the kicker”—that telecasts are not available on mobile or connected devices, lamenting, “What in the actual eff? Even if you’re willing and able to clear those first few hurdles, this last one is a real doozy. This makes less sense than a Wookiee living on Endor, since virtually the whole point of MLB.tv is to be able to watch wherever I want to.”11 As the league recognizes, fans expect MLB.tv to deliver “baseball everywhere,” and Follow Your Team was intended to be part and parcel of MLB.tv, simply adding a small number of telecasts to that product.

I should note here that, as Mr. Diver explained me: “the fact that you have to not only subscribe to a local RSN, but also be in the territory of the RSN isn’t really a limitation. The subscribing part is obviously a very real limitation, but the second half is not, because if you are not in the territory of the RSN, then you are not blacked out of the telecast to start with, so you don’t need FYT.”

My first thought was that that’s kind of like saying Grand Moff Tarkin isn’t really that bad since Darth Vader outranks him and is worse, but I figured it out after reading it for the sixteenth time. Though the language presents it as a limitation, being outside of your RSN’s broadcast territory just means you don’t need the FYT feature because the geofencing of MLB.tv’s service will recognize that you’re no longer local and will thus allow you to watch the games in question.

So that’s actually two features that are better (even if one is a matter of my misperception) than when I first reviewed the service. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling kinda proud of myself as a result of all this. If you are an FYT subscriber and have experienced an increased benefit, please feel free to show your thanks in the form of cash or beer, which can be sent to the CI corporate offices.

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