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]