MLB.com’s Switch To Flash Video Leaves More Questions Than Answers

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Adobe got a big customer win this week when they announced that MLB.com would move from the Silverlight platform back to Flash for all their live and on-demand video. The two-year deal, which kicks off in 2009, will also see MLB providing a rich Internet application (RIA) built using Adobe AIR that will give viewers access for yet to be announced features outside of a browser. The new rich Internet application will not replace the current MLB TV Mosaic app and will be a completely new piece of software.

While there has been some speculation that Adobe may be providing MLB.com with some monetary incentive to switch back to Flash, I doubt that is the case. While similar in nature to the NFL deal, the NFL is a very different organization and has a history of feeling others should pay to be associated with their brand. Major League Baseball's Advanced Media (MLBAM) division is all about making the online video experience as easy as possible and making sure they can incorporate other forms of content outside of just video into the overall user experience.

That being said, there are quite a few interesting questions one has to ask based on this new deal, which unfortunately MLB won't answer at this time. For starters, since the majority of content delivery networks still charge more to deliver Flash streaming over Silverlight, is MLB's cost to deliver video now going up? And if it does, will it have any real impact on the cost of MLB TV? Looking at the MLB.com website, I can't find any pricing yet for the MLB TV service in 2009. Also, since the Flash Media Server can't scale as well as Windows Media in a live environment, I think a real possibility exists that MLB could move to a dual-vendor strategy for their video delivery. While Akamai has all of MLB.com's video business today, I would not be surprised if over time, some of MLB's traffic was split between Akamai and another provider.

I also wonder how moving back to Flash affects MLB's mobile based offering? Flash video does not work on many mobile devices like Blackberry's and the mobile market is one that is very important to MLB. And when it comes to DRM, Adobe has only just recently started providing a DRM solution in the market; hence folks like Netflix and others going with Silverlight, especially for Mac users. Does the new Flash DRM now restrict MLB.com in any way for videos that are purchased and downloaded to the desktop? I'm also interested in hearing if MLB.com will use On2 or H.264 for the encoding, or a combination of the two.

My initial thought is that since MLB.com has already worked with the Flash video platform in the past that a lot of this has already been worked out. But since it will have been almost a year and a half since they were offering MLB TV in Flash, quite a lot has changed with the platform. The one thing that I hope this has no impact on is the time is takes MLB.com to turn around highlights and video clips. For this past season, I was seeing Mets highlights from games in as quickly as ten minutes after they happened.

In my eyes, MLB.com has always been the leader when it comes to providing fans with a really good quality user experience actually worth paying for. I hope their switch to Flash video doesn't change any of that experience for all the various ways that fans are able to get video.

[Thanks to Beet.tv for the heads up when the news broke]

  • A couple points –
    It’s my understanding that MLB.TV has already been leveraging multiple CDN providers for live streaming through their Swarmcast partnership. On-demand video delivery has been exclusive to Akamai so far as I know, doubt that will change.
    In terms of mobile, MLB is already forced to transcode everything to the requirements of the few mobile content partners they have, we’re so far from any kind of mobile video standard that that shouldn’t change for a while.
    Codec and DRM are good questions that I’d love answers to as well.

  • In regards to Flash DRM we are quite a ways off from seeing anything deployed that’s widely available. Adobe is working to modify their current FMRMS platform for providers in the marketplace.
    MLB would need to deploy an AIR-based player to support using FMRMS on their content and setup their own FMRMS stack which is not an impossibility.

  • TJ

    The press release from Adobe did mention a desktop AIR component to the MLB Flash offering, which makes a lot of sense.

  • Since it is being assumed Adobe is luring the MLB with monetary incentives, similiar to what they did with the NFL. My confusion then stems from what Dan posted on 11/10/08 about the CEO of Adobe,Shantanu Narayen,claiming Adobe has already won control of the online video platform market, specifically over Microsoft. I know the MLB is a major account for them, but why would Adobe need to pay the MLB to switch back to their services if they have what their CEO claims to be such a strong control of the market already? Personally, I think the move comes off a bit contradictory to the comments made by Mr. Narayen recently.

  • Anonymous

    Microsoft wouldn’t pay MLB enough to switch. Then MLB extorted $$ out of Adobe in exchange for an announcement.
    Bob Bowen has never sat in a single meeting and doesn’t know anything about the technology, he only cares about who’s paying.

  • How does winning a major account contradict the statement that flash video is the leader in this space?
    MLB already had a huge investment in Flash as a platform and the move back to Flash for video is no surprise but common sense.