Earlier today, I saw an interesting post on AllFacebook.com that discusses Major League Baseball’s decision to end their free livestreams on Facebook. You can read their take on the decision here.
In case you didn’t know, MLB was providing a live game feed to select spring training games that could be watched directly via the MLB Facebook page. I thought this was a pretty big step for the league, which generally maintains very tight control over all of their digital content, which under most circumstances has to be viewed via MLB.com. From MLB’s perspective, this service could have several benefits:
- It would be an opportunity to promote their MLB.tv product, which I think is the industry standard for a web-based, live streaming service
- It would be a great social media engagement tool to get better value from their Facebook page
- It would generate increased interest in spring training games, which generally have very low viewership
According to Bob Bowman from MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), the service was successful in generating interest in baseball, but it was not a great conversion tool for generating MLB.tv subscribers.
So, MLB has since stopped the live streaming service, which to me seems a bit short-sighted. If the program was having a positive impact on promoting and generating interest in baseball, then instead of ending the program, maybe fine-tune it. As Jackie Cohen from AllFacebook.com pointed out, maybe the main reason for the low conversion numbers was because the only games being shown were spring training. It would have been very interesting to see if the conversion data jumped based off a opening week trial run (I believe the NHL offered their GameCenter Live product for free during the first week of the regular season to generate new subscribers). Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing this now.
In his statement, Bob Bowman mentioned that most people ended up clicking over to the MLB website to watch the games, rather than use the embedded player on Facebook, and this contributed to the decision to remove the live stream. However, I think this behavior can be more attributed to the short trial window. If a company is going to provide a brand new way to consume content, they need to provide enough time for the corresponding consumer behavior to change. And in this case, since MLB doesn’t have the same numbers of Facebook users as the other four major U.S. leagues and most MLB fans have been trained that content is only available on MLB.com, I think a longer trial period would definitely be needed and could generate much better results.
I hope to see MLB try this again during the season, maybe during another 1-2 week trial period, or better yet, all throughout the year via a free “Game of the Week.” At least then, I think they’d have a better idea of what impact this can have, and meanwhile, they’ll continue to get a benefit through increasing exposure for their product.
UPDATE: I was contacted by someone at MLB Advanced Media who informed me that there is still a free “Game of the Day” available via Facebook, but instead of using Facebook’s embedded video player, it takes the user to the high-definition MLB.tv video player. See the image on the right for an example from a recent post.
I love that they have decided to still offer a bit of free content to their Facebook fans, but I wonder how requiring the user to leave their Facebook page will impact viewership. If the video was embedded right there specifically for fans of their official page, their level of fan engagement on Facebook would jump, but would they maybe miss out on some new MLB.tv subscribers.