Just about two weeks ago, I put on my cranky old media analyst hat to lament Baseball’s misguided adventures in the digital space. My central premise was that after revolutionizing the industry, the league ceded all control to the people who leaped off their backs and in doing so accelerated the demographic apocalypse the league now faces.
So now, gentle reader, allow me to throw away that hat and enjoy this happier tune of mine as I relay the news of MLB’s new rights deal with YouTube. From Variety:
YouTube’s first-ever exclusive live game distribution partnership with MLB will cover games during the second half of the 2019 MLB regular season. MLB and YouTube plan to announce a schedule of dates and matchups in the next few weeks.
The 13-game MLB package will be exclusively distributed in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico live for free on MLB’s official YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/MLB) and on a forthcoming dedicated channel on YouTube TV, Google’s $50 monthly internet TV bundle. That means those games won’t be on any TV network or the MLB.tv subscription-streaming service.
This means that you won’t need to have a YouTube or YouTube TV account (yes, they’re different services) to watch one of these exclusive games, a significant difference from the past two years and the league’s exclusive deal with Facebook Watch. If anything, this seems setup to give more access to more viewers, something that the Facebook Watch deal did not seem to do.
I don’t know how many of you are regular YouTube users, but their app is ubiquitous and regardless of the platform you use it on — in particular, a Roku device or Apple TV — extremely easy to use. Their phone app also works pretty well, too.
Sorry if this sounds like an ad for Google and YouTube, one of the most popular and well-known services on the planet, but Major League Baseball just went from a league average platoon in center field to Mike Trout.
Not only does YouTube work across all devices (my limited time with YouTube TV in particular was eye-opening) and provide a stable streaming video experience, it is the Channel of the Youths. Even more so than Netflix. It also has a real-time international experience thanks to the vast YouTube community. And, yes, there will be a limited international component to the broadcast deal.
While I’m sure it wasn’t planned, this deal being set to begin in the second half of the season really works to their advantage. The NBA season will have ended (they have the largest YouTube following of the four major North American sports) and the NFL (the next most popular) will still be in training camp and preseason.
According to the report, the MLB games will feature pre- and post-game shows that will involve popular YouTubers. Yes, this sets the stage for some problematic b.s. given who are actually popular YouTubers, but that seems to be a better problem to have than “Literally nobody under the age of 25 knows what baseball is” — that’s hyperbole, but it doesn’t feel like it is by much.
If nothing else, the YouTube personality element might mean they’ll use my suggestions from two weeks ago:
Commission a 1-2 minute video that explains the actual game of Baseball
Make fun of how weird and old timey it is
And to really triple down on the cynicism, at the very least, MLB content can replace some of the conspiracy videos that get thrown into the autoplay mix. You know, a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walk-off grand slam highlight or live look-in on a Casey Mize no-hitter might be a better follow-up to a video explaining everything you might’ve missed in AVENGERS: ENDGAME than something about the flat earth conspiracy or a Dunk Your Baby In Soda Challenge or basically whatever the troll culture comes up with next.
The Facebook broadcasts will still be in play this year, there will just be fewer of them and they won’t be exclusive (no blackouts). MLB seems to have heard your complaints and maybe given all the turmoil and law-breaking going on with Facebook, the league figured it needed to explore other avenues.
YouTube is the smarter digital play. Yes, Google will still be violating your privacy while you view these games just like Facebook did, but at least Major League Baseball might start getting through to some 12 year olds.