This coming week should see the announcement of the 2019 MLBTV subscription details, if the past couple of years are an accurate guide.
My annual review article upon launch always seems to be appreciated, so I’ll endeavour to write that up as soon as possible when the details are published.
Gone are the days when the impending announcement came with fevered speculation over what new features we may get to enjoy as part of the service. MLBTV is a mature offering now and it’s hard to think of too many things that it doesn’t offer already that would improve it. The option of 4K streaming would likely be the next major advance that they will look at, but it’s probably a few years before there’s a big enough market for it, especially if it comes at a higher price.
However, there are a few things to look out for in 2019.
Under the so-called Garber lawsuit settlement, MLB agreed to an annual price increase of either 3% or the rate of inflation (whichever is higher) up to 2020. The 2018 price was a $3 increase on 2017 to $116 and we’ll likely see a similar small increase in 2019, so the advertised price will be $119 or so.
We also have to consider VAT at 20% that MLB has to add on, plus the dollar/pound exchange rate. The 2018 MLB-wide All Teams subscription was $139.19 including VAT, working out at just under £100 as of early February 2018. We’d be paying £6 more at the same price this year and, factoring in the small price increase, I’d estimate that the subscription will work out at £109 or so this year.
The £109 price would be for the full All Teams subscription, which may well be the only one we can buy. Whilst MLB promoted the option to buy a team-based subscription at a lower cost limited to a chosen team’s games last year, fans outside of North America were blocked from being able to purchase it.
I guess the thinking is that if someone outside of North America is interested enough in MLB to buy a streaming subscription, having to pay the extra $20 (as it was last year) isn’t going to put most of them off so they may as well take the money. It seems petty to me though, as I doubt it would add up to all that much revenue lost and needlessly creates a bad impression for potential customers.
What we can watch
As well as the lack of a team-based subscription, the other thing that is starting to become a factor is MLB allowing other companies exclusive streaming rights, and therefore taking away some games that would otherwise be included in the subscription.
So far that’s been limited to Facebook doing a Thursday day-game, although as an A’s fan that was a pain several times last year as a Thursday home day-game (20.35 start BST) is one of the main slots in a week that works well for us.
Of course, us baseball converts shouldn’t be too selfish with that, as such deals do give potential newcomers the chance to watch a game every week for free, which can only be a good thing. There was also a Twitter weekly game option last year, yet this was restricted to North America so another one that wasn’t open to us.
All in all, us international subscribers get a great deal out of MLBTV as we are free from the US national and local blackout restrictions (the latter often being particularly ridiculous), including the ability to watch all post-season games as part of the annual subscription. So losing a game or two a week really isn’t a big factor – annoying as it is if your team happens to be playing in one you then can’t watch – but it’s something to keep an eye on in case this starts to increase.
Finally, whilst I started this article stating there isn’t much MLB can add to the MLBTV service, that’s not to say they couldn’t make it all the more attractive by adding other potential subscriptions to it. They’ve already done that for several years in giving us the option of buying the MiLBTV (Minor Leagues) subscription at a reduced rate, and the other addition they could make – that would be a particular bonus to international fans – is MLB Network.
MLB issued a short survey last year to MLBTV subscribers (I’m not sure how widely it was sent around) and one of the key topics they asked questions about was MLB Network. They were seeking views on whether subscribers would be interested in the option to get MLB Network as part of the subscription and how much extra they would be prepared to pay. The fact that they were asking shows that it’s clearly an option they are heavily considering.
The news this past week that ESPN would not be bringing back Baseball Tonight as a daily show, as rumoured, brought more attention on to the potential for making MLB Network available more widely. The Awful Announcing article about that news noted that in 2018 ESPN had partnered with MLB Network to syndicate the Intentional Talk programme and that this deal had come to an end.
I would guess that it was this deal that meant Intentional Talk was included on BT Sport in the UK last year, so the one option we had to watch some MLB Network programming (other than clips on MLB.com) probably has disappeared.
However, I think there is a good chance that this year’s subscription will include the option to add on a streamed service of MLB Network.
As always, the price will be a big factor for every individual customer as to whether they sign up for it.
The spare time I have to watch baseball-related stuff every week once the season gets going is happily largely taken up by watching actual games (live or catching up on some A’s night-games), so I probably wouldn’t get my money’s worth out of it if it was more than an extra $20 or so for the year. At that cost I’d be happy to catch bits here and there during the season and then I’d watch it a lot more in the off-season.
Anyway, having the option available would be the big bonus as I’m sure some fans over here would watch it a lot. It’s only a potential for now, but that will be the big thing to look out for when the subscription details are announced in the coming days.