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MLBAM’s Bob Bowman: “If Content Is King, Than Distribution Is Queen”

April 15th, 2015 Posted in Headlines By Brandon Costa

At an NAB Show where digital content creation, distribution, and monetization has permeated the headlines, the man who could be considered the “Godfather of Digital Sports Video” spoke on the present and future of his side of the business in a provocative conversation Sunday that beat the drum for the promise of content everywhere.

“Nothing has changed, content is still incredibly valuable,” said Bob Bowman, CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). “Content is still the king, but I would stay distribution is now the queen. Good content with poor distribution is just that, which means it will be litter. Bad content with good distribution is just that, which means it won’t get watched.”

Bowman has helped build a business at MLBAM that has become the benchmark in the digital space. Not only did the company blaze the trail of live sports streaming – MLB.TV began sending baseball games over the Internet in 2002 – but it today provides the technological digital backbone for a laundry list of broadcasting mega powers, including the new HBO Now, WatchESPN, March Madness Live, The Masters Live, and more.

Working in baseball, Bowman is naturally a stat head, and the numbers that jump out at him in the content distribution industry are two billion smartphones and 70 billion digital-enabled devices worldwide versus the 700 million or so traditional television sets in the world.

“When you look at today, network still has great content, but guess what, so does everybody else,” he says. “Amazon and Netflix are going to spend two to three billion dollars this year, who knows how much, creating content and they deliver it to everywhere in the world. The content choices that we have in the over-the-top world will dwarf what we have with pay-TV today.”

In Bowman’s view, one of the aspects that has held digital video back is the traditional broadcaster’s view that a digital production is simply the linear broadcast on another screen. Interactive experiences and fresh approaches to advertising for a digital audience are just a pair of factors Bowman would like to see evolve.

“I think really smart business people around this conference and around the world are starting to realize that one size does not fit all and standing still is losing ground to your next generation of customers,” he said.

During his conversation with Devoncroft’s Joe Zaller, Bowman showed off MLBAM’s Statcast, which is now in its sophomore season. The tracking technology was designed with ChyronHego and has taken game data analytics to new stratospheres. It’s also helped BAM produce new, innovative content for fans.

“We have three rules: its got to be mobile, its got to be video, and its got to be shareable,” says Bowman of content producer by BAM. “If you don’t hit those three things, forget it. You’re not going to make it. We didn’t just say that Hunter Pence ran 20 mph, we showed it, and that’s what’s going to make kids excited.”

Much has been made about the future of the wildly lucrative MLBAM. Will it be spun off? Turned into an IPO? Will the league seek outside investors? New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be eyeing investors and, according to Bowman, that money would go, not to the teams, but back into MLBAM to create more content and to invest into more content and properties. Bowman says his company is happy to go out and buy content and be competitors in bids for content.

As for the future of digital in general, he feels there needs to be more buy in from the traditional broadcasters and that multichannel video programming distributors need to figure out a way to work together for the greater good.

“I think, in the end, the MVPDs are going to have to figure out a way to be partners,” he says. “We can’t view this as a zero-sum game – the way broadcast, maybe with an assist from the FCC stomped on cable for a while – it just won’t work with the Internet. There’s just way too many consumers out there who have grown up as digital natives and they’re just not going to tolerate it.”

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