Code/Media: MLB's Streaming Company Aims to Bid on Sports Rights

Robert A Bowman - H 2016
Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for AWXI

The company is planning a spinoff of its technology business that powers streaming for HBO Now, NHL and others.

MLB Advanced Media, the pro baseball league's video streaming arm, is still in the process of raising money to spin off its technology operations, but CEO Bob Bowman already has his eye on competing for sports programming. 

"We want to be competitive," he said Thursday on stage at the Code/Media 2016 conference in Dana Point, Calif., when asked about his five-year plan. "We want to be bidding for rights." 

Bowman acknowledged that going up against ESPN, even with its subscriber losses, would be a challenging task. "Do we think we could ever beat ESPN? Not in the farthest stretch of the imagination," he said, adding that he would like to compete for over-the-top, worldwide sports programming. 

MLBAM started as the arm through which MLB began streaming out-of-market baseball games to subscribers. But as the company has grown, it also has become a partner for other streaming efforts. The company now powers the streaming back-end for HBO Now, March Madness, the PGA and the NHL.

Last summer, MLBAM's board approved plans to spin off those non-baseball streaming efforts into a separate company called BAM Tech, which will continue to be majority owned by MLB's 30 owners but will also bring on the NHL as a minority owner. 

"It deserves to be separated," said Bowman, noting that he's talking with potential equity investors for the new venture. "We could probably be bigger and faster." 

During his half-hour talk, Bowman teased that MLB is hoping to follow up on its deal with Snapchat last season (wherein the app features user-generated baseball content via Live Stories) by expanding into spring training content this season. 

When asked about whether a streaming service, say, an Apple or Google, could ever secure the rights to Thursday Night Football, the exec was quick to say no, noting that currently no streamer would be able to deliver 10 million concurrent streams in the U.S. "Eventually we'll get there. It would be really hard to do," Bowman said, putting things into perspective by revealing that MLBAM has "kissed two million concurrents for some of our partners."