YouTube, MLB Renew Streaming Deal for 21 Regular Season Games

Major League Baseball is just around the corner, and the national past time has renewed for the third time an over-the-top video distribution agreement — “MLB Game of the Week Live on YouTube” — with the Google-owned streaming platform.

The new agreement calls for the availability of 21 regular season games, beginning on April 7 at 1 p.m. ET, with the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays facing the Boston Red Sox. The ad-supported games are free to viewers who click on the MLB YouTube channel or subscribe to YouTube TV.

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Other YouTube games include the April 22 contest between the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros at 8 p.m. ET; and the AL Central Division champion Minnesota Twins traveling to Cleveland to take on the Indians on April 28 at 1 p.m. ET.

A new feature this season is the “YouTube Player of the Game” feature enabling viewers on mobile devices and PCs the ability to vote for the standout player, who will receive a special trophy during the postgame show. Meanwhile, viewers will also be able to access live game commentary from sports-focused YouTube creators, participate in in-game polls, and re-watch key plays and real-time stats.

“Our partnership with MLB is always a highlight on the sports calendar for us and 2021 is going to be our biggest year yet,” Tim Katz, head of sports and news partnerships for YouTube, said in a statement. “YouTube shows up for its partners when and where they need us by offering unique in-game features to engage fans of all ages across the globe. With two successful seasons under our belts, we look forward to delivering 21 games this season to fans who have come to expect our creative presentation that is both easy to access and engaging, and we look forward to taking it to even greater heights.”

The 2020 World Series — Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Sports;
$19.98 DVD, $26.98 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Narrated by Vin Scully.

These World Series recap videos tend to be a bit on the cookie-cutter side — mix in interviews from both teams, focus on the highlights from each game, then hire a celebrity who’s a fan of the winning team to narrate.

Soon after the Los Angeles Dodgers wrapped up the title by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in six games, I figured since Bryan Cranston had narrated a few Dodgers vignettes over the years, no one would be better suited for the job than him.

Expect for the guy they got.

Vin Scully.

The now-93-year-old broadcasting legend who was the Dodgers play-by-play announcer from 1950 to his retirement in 2016 — right before the Dodgers’ run of making three World Series in the past four years.

Scully had been there for all the previous Dodgers championships, from their lone title in Brooklyn to the previous five since they moved to L.A. in 1958 — 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988, the latter being famous for the Kirk Gibson home run.

Amid the global coronavirus pandemic that forced Major League Baseball into taking the unprecedented step of not only shortening the regular season, but also holding most of the postseason at neutral sites, the sound of Vin Scully talking about Dodgers baseball just makes the world seem a little bit closer to normal.

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While it’s nice to relive some of the memories of the title run, when Vin isn’t talking, the documentary kind of reverts to the usual sort of highlights package and behind-the-scenes footage MLB produces to commemorate the just-concluded season. Given how rapidly they make it to shelves after the final game, the recap videos tend to feel as if they are being cobbled together as the series progresses and then after it’s over they’ll tack on some extra footage of the team that ended up winning so as to give the hint of some sort of overarching narrative.

In this case, that means a reminder that this was the eighth year in a row the Dodgers have won the National League West title, but hadn’t converted any of the previous seven into a World Series title — the longest stretch of consecutive division titles without a championship in MLB history. Their last World Series win came in 1988, a three-decade drought they came close to breaking in 2017 before falling short in seven games to the Houston Astros — a series they may well have won if not for Astros cheating using methods that came to light a few years later (which, in accordance with the MLB’s seeming policy of wanting to sweep that scandal under the rug, is completely ignored here).

Other stories swirling around the team heading into the Fall Classic were rumblings about

future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw not being able to win in October, and manager Dave Roberts continually coming up so close to the title but falling short in his five years at the helm.

As Gibson had been the spark for the ’88 team, the key ingredient for 2020 turned out to be Mookie Betts, a superstar player who helped the Boston Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, and who the Dodgers acquired in a trade before the season when the Sox were looking to cut payroll. Much to the chagrin of Red Sox nation, Betts subsequently signed a 12-year extension with the Dodgers worth $365 million.

The series itself would end up awash in historic quirks as a result of the pandemic. After cutting short Spring Training in March, MLB shut things down until July, when teams began an abbreviated, regional 60-game regular season with no fans at the ballpark, as opposed to the usual 162-game campaign. As an added wrinkle, the playoffs were expanded, and the Division, League Championship and World Series were played at stadiums neutral to the teams involved, so the league could maintain a COVID-free bubble. The Dodgers essentially spent October making the Texas Rangers’ stadium near Dallas their home away from home.

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The World Series film doesn’t really delve into the earlier playoff matchups (except in the bonus materials), and thus doesn’t mention one of the more amusing coincidences resulting from the unusual playoff circumstances — all of the qualifying Central Division teams from each league lost in the first round. So the Division series were all contested between teams from the same division. And the League Championship series were each West vs. East affairs in which neither team had played each other before during the regular season.

Likewise, with the Rays winning the American League pennant over the hated Astros, the World Series was also an East/West matchup — featuring the teams with the best records in each league, the best combined record since 1906, and were similar unfamiliar with each other.

In another coincidence, bubble delays to the NHL and NBA pushed their playoffs back several months, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Lakers winning their respective league titles just a few weeks before the World Series — making Dodgers vs. Rays a sort of tie-breaker for the region seeking bragging rights and the moniker of “Titletown” for 2020.

But that’s just trivia for the sports-minded in general. Bringing in Scully to narrate the movie really pays off in the end, when he adds a personal reflection linking the Dodgers’ seventh title to the six that came before — a montage of historical moments that will surely bring a tear to any Dodger fans’ eye.

It should be noted there seems to be a brief audio glitch during Scully’s wrap-up ruminations — one that’s part of the audio mix since it’s consistent on both the Blu-ray and the DVD offered in the combo pack.

Extras on the 2020 World Series Blu-ray include a five-minute recap of the Dodgers’ season, eight minutes of Dodgers season highlights, a nine-minute montage of highlights from the Dodgers’ games to clinch a playoff spot, the NL West, the Wild Card series over the Milwaukee Brewers, the NLDS over the San Diego Padres, and the NLCS over the Atlanta Braves, in which the Dodgers had to rebound from being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

There is also a 14-minute video of select post-game interviews with Dodgers players following their title win.

Highlight Film of Dodgers’ 2020 World Series Championship Arriving Dec. 8, Narrated by Vin Scully

Shout! Factory Dec. 8 will release The 2020 World Series, the highlight film of Major League Baseball’s 2020 championship season that saw the Los Angeles Dodgers win the Fall Classic. The film will be narrated by longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who retired in 2016. It will also be available on the same date digitally, to own and rent from all major platforms.

The coronavirus pandemic presented many challenges to the 2020 baseball season, cutting short spring training and forcing the league to adjust to an abbreviated 60-game schedule with expanded playoffs in a quarantine bubble and a World Series played at a neutral site for the first time in history.

Through it all, the powerhouse Dodgers lineup, one of the favorites going into the season, emerged with the team’s first championship since 1988, after coming back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit in the National League Championship Series to win a dramatic seventh game against the Atlanta Braves, then defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series in six games.

The official World Series film features in-depth Interviews with Dodgers superstars including Mookie Betts, World Series MVP Corey Seager and pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

“It was 32 years since the Dodgers won a World Series and the seventh in the history of the organization, bringing great joy to their fans and the city of Los Angeles in particular,” Scully said in a statement. “This is their winning story against the Tampa Bay Rays, and it’s an honor for me to recount just how they did it.”

Bonus features include regular season highlights, clinching moments, featurettes and more.

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Dodger fans can also get the 2020 World Series Collector’s Edition: Los Angeles Dodgers Blu-ray Disc set Feb. 9, 2021, featuring eight complete game broadcasts — the six games of the World Series against Tampa Bay, plus the final games of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres (Game 3 to complete a sweep) and the National League Championship Series against the Braves (Game 7 to complete the comeback, capped by Cody Bellinger’s home run in the seventh inning).

The games will include multiple audio options — the network TV broadcast, the Dodgers radio announcers, and the Spanish-language broadcast.

The packaging will include a “Sleevestats” insert containing game trivia, official statistics and more.

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Roku: MLB Return Not Driving Pay-TV Viewership

The return of Major League Baseball during the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t resulted in a return to pay-tv, according to new data from Roku. The streaming media device manufacturer/distributor, citing internal research, found that 70% of households that watched baseball in 2019 did not tune in to watch the 2020’s delayed season opening weekend.

A loss of live sports due to COVID-19 is the primary reason 25% of survey respondents said they have dropped pay-TV. Just 20% of those subscribers said they would re-new pay-TV with the return of live sports. The findings counter claims by Disney-owned ESPN and Fox Sports about record opening weekend baseball ratings.

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“The return of MLB was a swing and a miss when it comes to viewership for traditional linear TV as less than one third of baseball’s 2019 household audience tuned in to watch any of the opening week games on linear television,” Gaurav Shirole, director of audience measurement at Roku, said in a statement.

Shirole believes that as live sports returns, fans have found new ways to consume it via video streaming services such as MLB.tv, the SVOD platform affording subscribers out-of-market games live or on-demand.

“Blacked out games are typically available to stream about 90 minutes after their conclusion,” he said.

Other MLB streaming sources include YouTube TV (a sponsor of last year’s World Series), Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, AT&T TV Now and fuboTV, among others.

Games are also broadcast across a variety of channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, FS1, TBS, MLB Network and regional networks including NBC Sports and Fox Sports.

Amazon Prime Video Strikes Out in Pandemic Shortened MLB Season

Lost in the euphoria of Major League Baseball’s July 23 return during the coronavirus pandemic: Amazon Prime Video’s scuttled attempt to stream select New York Yankees games — a first for the e-commerce behemoth.

When Amazon became part owner of the Yankees’ YES regional cable network, it earned rights to stream 21 games, including three against the Boston Red Sox. With the MLB shortening the season to 60 games from the traditional 162, a provision in the revised schedule prohibits third-party streaming of any local TV game broadcasts — a situation that also impacts Hulu’s agreement with Chicago Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network.

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Of the games Amazon could stream, YES Network chose to control all of them rather than simulcast with Prime Video

“Given the unique circumstances surrounding this season, YES Network will televise all New York Yankees games not airing on the national networks,” Amazon said in a statement. “We’ll evaluate our plans at the conclusion of this season.”

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Indeed, Amazon could follow Google-owned YouTube TV, which in February announced it would no longer carry Fox Regional Sports Networks, which included YES Network.

In a post on Twitter at the time, YouTube said it acquired rights from Sinclair Broadcasting to simulcast select games to Prime members.

“Despite our best efforts, we’ve been unable to reach an agreement with Sinclair,” said YouTube. “As a result, we will no longer offer Fox Regional Sports Networks, including YES Network,” YouTube said in a tweet.

In a subsequent tweet, the streamer said it didn’t take the decision “lightly,” arguing the impasse was largely a reflection of the rising cost of sports content.

“You may have noticed several other TV services have also decided to remove Fox Regional Sports Networks from their lineups,” YouTube said. 

 

Major League Baseball Owners Eyeing Game Play in July

Major League Baseball owners May 11 approved a proposal to be sent to the players union that could see the national pastime resume play in July. Spring training could begin in June with the season boiled down to a 82- game regular-season.

Speaking earlier in the day on the virtual MoffettNathanson 7th Annual Media & Communications Summit, Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, said Major League Baseball would likely start in July with or without fans in attendance. Ripley said his comments were based on discussions with MLB executives.

“July has some potential for some of these leagues to start, or maybe August,” Ripley said, adding that without a coronavirus vaccine, he doubts professional sports would risk subjecting spectators to the virus.

“Are you really going to put 30,000 people into a building when there’s no vaccine yet?,” he said.

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The German pro soccer Bundesliga last week announced it would resume the remaining nine weekends of its season on May 16 — the first sports league to do so.

Sinclair, which operates the second-largest collection of sports TV channels in the country, this year is partnering with the Chicago Cubs for the debut of the Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports pay-TV platform that includes an over-the-top element. The channel is similar to the New York Yankees’ YES Network and Los Angeles Dodgers’ Spectrum SportsNet LA.

With pay-TV operators continuing to charge subscribers for sports networks devoid of sports content, there is increasing regulatory concern among some states that consumers are getting ripped off.

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New York State Attorney General Letitia James last month called on seven major cable and satellite TV providers operating in New York to provide financial relief for consumers amidst the pandemic by reducing or eliminating fees attributable to live sports programming.

Ripley said there is some discussion about offering rebates to distributors for non-broadcast games.

“We’re doing a lot of research into that,” he said. “There are more sports fans outside the bundle than you may think.”

T-Mobile Giving Subs Free Year of Major League Baseball Streaming Service

T-Mobile is giving subscribers a free year access to MLB.tv, the standalone subscription streaming service operated by Major League Baseball.

The promotion, which is part of T-Mobile Tuesdays and begins on March 24, enables T-Mobile data subs unlimited access to MLB games outside their market.

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MLB.tv launched in 1995 as an audio-only format. It currently charges $25 monthly or $119 for the season.

The wireless carrier said that any T-Mobile customer on a qualifying monthly rate plan can participate in the Tuesdays promotion. To be eligible, customers must be at least 18 years old, minors need to be at least 13 years of age with parental consent, and customers in Puerto Rico must be at least 21 years old. Subs must download the T-Mobile Tuesdays app to access MLB.tv.

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Hulu Missing From Chicago Cubs Spring Training Lineup

The Chicago Cubs, like many Major League Baseball teams, begin their 28-game Spring Training season Feb. 22 in Mesa, Arizona. While inclement weather is delaying the start to many games on Saturday, Disney’s online TV platform, Hulu with Live TV, won’t be around to stream the action regardless of projected rain in the forecast.

The Cubs, together with Sinclair Broadcast Group, are bowing their jointly created Marquee Sports Network, which was supposed to stream on Hulu, priced at $54.99. Subs were to get access to 148 regular season games (not being broadcast nationally), in addition to Spring Training.

In a Feb. 21 statement, the Cubs said Marquee would be available to stream on AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and “Hulu+Live TV in the near future.” No reason was given for the delayed launch on Hulu, which recently disclosed 2.7 million subscribers — topping Dish Network’s Sling TV.

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“The provider determines the launch date for the service,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green told the Chicago Tribune.

Per ongoing secular changes in media distribution, the Cubs for the first time in their history will not broadcast games locally over-the-air TV after 71 years.

Marquee has also bowed a branded Sports Network App, enabling fans with pay-TV contracts access to live and on-demand mobile and desktop access.

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2019 World Series Commemorative Blu-rays Arriving Dec. 3

Shout! Factory Dec. 3 will release The 2019 World Series, the official recap film of Major League Baseball’s championship series, on Blu-ray and DVD.

Narrated by NBC “Today” anchor Craig Melvin, the recap film will guide viewers through the highlights of the Nationals’ run to the first championship in franchise history, with Washington winning the National League Wild Card en route to overcoming the American League champion Astros and their MLB-best 107 wins.

The historic series also marked the first time every game was won by the visiting team, as the Nationals, led by Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, came back from a 3-2 series deficit, and were behind 2-0 in the seventh inning of the decisive seventh game.

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Also due Dec. 3 will be The 2019 World Series Collector’s Edition: Washington Nationals, an eight-disc set on Blu-ray and DVD containing the game broadcasts for the Nationals’ seven-game victory over the Houston Astros. The set will also include the National’s clinching game of the National League Championship Series over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The special edition game boxed set includes SleeveStats inserts, which offer official stats and game trivia, as well as four audio options for each game — the national broadcast, the Washington Nationals Radio Network, the opponent’s Radio Network, or a Spanish-language version of the broadcasts.

Report: Amazon in Talks to Buy Majority Stake in Yankees’ YES Sports TV Network

Amazon and Sinclair Broadcast Group are reportedly in early discussions about a joint bid to acquire the New York Yankees’ YES regional sports TV network.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Amazon and Sinclair would be acquiring the 80% stake currently owned by The Walt Disney Co. – and valued from $5 billion to $6 billion. The Yankees own the other 20%.

Other possible YES suitors include pay-TV operator Altice USA and investor group RedBird Capital.

Amazon, unlike Netflix, is no stranger to live sports. It currently streams NFL Thursday Night Football on Prime Video, in addition to other sports internationally.

The talks are in the preliminary stage and face several challenges, including Major League Baseball’s streaming video platform, MLB.tv, and existing pay-TV distribution deals between the Yankees and Comcast, Altice and Charter Communications.

Disney assumed control of Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network LLC following its $71 billion acquisition of select 21stCentury Fox assets. In addition to carrying Yankees baseball, YES airs the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets basketball games, among other content.

Fox owns 21 another regional TV sports networks across the country, valued at around $15 billion.