MLB Whiffs as It Strikes Out at Slingbox
Anyone who knows me understands that I’m a Slingbox addict. I got the device shortly after they were first released. I adopted their mobile phone viewer within hours of its availability. I talk about it constantly. I evangelize it in bars and restaurants where I can be found watching TV on my cell phone, the phone gracefully propped up on a used wine cork (when available) to establish a better viewing angle. I incorporate the Slingbox into presentations I do to demonstrate the power of technology to make peoples’ lives better (or at least more enjoyable).
Why am I so passionate about the Slingbox? Because of the Boston Red Sox. I’m more addicted to the Red Sox than the Slingbox and that little silver box helps me feed that addiction. I travel for business almost every week of the year. I had in the neighborhood of 100 flights last year and spend something like 150 days a year or more a year sleeping somewhere other than my own bed (and since that reads awkwardly, if my wife is reading, I want to be clear that I mean ALONE when I’m not with her).
The restaurants I frequent typically do not have the Red Sox game on. Usually, they can’t even get it easily if they wanted to. So the Slingbox is my connection to Red Sox nation. It allows me to watch what I would be watching if I were at home. I already pay the local cable company for a slew of cable boxes, so it isn’t as if I’m trying to skate by for free. I just want to be able to watch Don and Jerry call the game.
That’s why I’m so disappointed that Major League Baseball has decided to lash out at Sling Media, the producer of the Slingbox. (Full Disclosure: one of my brothers recently joined the Sling Media team, but readers of this blog know that my passion for the product predates that.) Here’s Major League Baseball’s argument, according to CNET:
MLB.com seems to take issue with allowing Slingbox owners’ TV channels to be transmitted over the Internet. “Moving content from one form of transmission to another certainly invites that kind of analysis,” said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB.com, referring to Mellis’ statement. For instance, if a TV signal was converted into a radio signal, it might raise the eyebrows of those broadcasters involved. The Slingbox, he added, “is not a place-shifting device, (it) is a delivery-shifting device.”
The argument is absurd. The Supreme Court has established that consumers can record TV shows. Once recorded, these shows could then be carried on a video tape or hard drive to an alternate location to view it. That’s effectively what the Slingbox does, just in real-time. Indeed, the Slingbox goes to great lengths to as nearly as possible replicate the experience of watching the original broadcast, right down to a graphical representation of a remote control to change channels.
In many respects, MLB is ahead of the curve in their understanding and appreciation of new media. They and their teams have some of the best professional sports web sites and they’re offering great new media services like MLB-TV that enables consumers to watch all out of town games online for a low monthly subscription fee. It appears this is what they’re trying to protect, but the Slingbox simply isn’t competition for that service. It primarily helps travelers like me to watch games they would otherwise get to see. It isn’t a way for a Red Sox fan in New York or California to watch games — they would still need to turn to MLB or one of the out of town sports packages sold by cable and satellite companies to get those games.
Please, MLB, let’s drop the silliness of going after the Slingbox and stay focused on continued new media innovation and promotion of the sport — two things you do well. Fighting this pointless battle simply depletes resources that MLB and Sling Media could use for better purposes.