It was a Monday afternoon and Major League Baseball fans were making history.
The date was Aug. 26, 2002, and the Rangers were visiting the Yankees. Derek Jeter collected his 1,391st and 1,392nd hits, leading his team to a 10-3 rout. It was an ordinary day game except for one key distinction: 30,000 fans watched it live online at MLB.com.
They witnessed the curious and promising birth of MLB.TV and the advent of a technology that has led the way in sports and helped shape the digital habits of society as a whole. Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of that first live stream, and MLB Advanced Media is helping fans celebrate through Monday night by offering a $10 MLB.TV Premium subscription good for the remainder of the regular season. MLB.TV Premium subscribers also get the MLB.com At Bat 12 app for free on supported iOS and Android devices.
"Sure, you have access now," Jeter said Friday in Cleveland, when asked about being part of the tech timeline. "Before, I remember growing up and we had the Cubs because they were on WGN, we had the Braves on TBS and then you had to wait for that Game of the Week that came on. Now, I mean, you have access to every team every day if you want. I think it's a great thing for the fans."
Today, MLB.TV is older than many of the young baseball fans who learn to rely on it daily. Jeter said he never watches baseball broadcast in any form, but when asked if he were a young fan now, whether he would be an MLB.TV subscriber he said, "Probably, yeah. I think it's a good thing."
"Thanks to the vision of Commissioner Selig and the 30 Club owners, we are grateful for the
opportunity to have served so many fans their daily installment of live baseball over the past
decade," said Bob Bowman, President & CEO, MLBAM.
MLB.TV currently serves one million live video streams per day. There have been 27.2 million live video streams in 2012, and the 2011 total in that category was surpassed on June 26.
Starting with that 2002 game, when Alex Rodriguez homered for Texas, MLB.TV has delivered 1.5 billion live video streams to 3.7 million total subscribers. There have been more than 25,000 live games streamed, and 55.7 million mobile live video streams.
"It's been fun to watch, because of the progression of technology," Mets ace R.A. Dickey said after a batting practice last week at Citi Field. "One, because it brings the gift of baseball into so many more lives. That's what's first and foremost -- it's awesome. Secondly, it gives my mom [Leslie Wheeler] a chance to watch every time I pitch, which probably should be first.
"She used to just follow on the [Gameday] pitch tracker and then she got MLB.TV. The evolution of it has just been fantastic. She started subscribing around 2006-07, and she has been with it ever since."
A march toward greatness
In 2002, Michael Young was in his second full Major League season as the Rangers' everyday second baseman. He batted ninth in the order that afternoon, leading off the third inning with a single against Orlando Hernandez and finishing the day 1-for-4. Seven All-Star berths would await him.
Immediately after that game, Young said: "The technological advances made these days are pretty amazing. Technology never stops. Twenty-five years from now we're going to look back and say that the Internet was like a VHS tape or an 8-track."
Now it is 10 years later and Young is 35, and suddenly the father of three sons. His wife Cristina just gave birth to their third on Thursday night, and he was granted paternity leave Friday by the Rangers. Before departing, Young gave this recollection of the 2002 stream and his view of what followed:
"I don't remember the game but I remember the time. We were still watching all of our video through a VHS. Now some places they have touch screens to watch our film on. Video was a big part of the game then but now it's a really massive part of the game. You can get a massive advantage by just doing your homework."
After that historic first live stream, MLBAM sold the first subscription video product, a nine-game package of pennant race contests ($4.95). It streamed every game of the postseason to fans outside the U.S. and Japan ($19.95). The following season, the technology was branded as "MLB.TV."
"The interest in our teams day in and day out is the best in the world for eight months every year," said Dinn Mann, MLBAM executive vice president of content. "MLB.TV was launched to serve that appetite, and we've looked to those great fans for our mission all along: Deliver the game they love, live, on whatever screen is handy and with technology that raises the bar."
Those who have participated along the way will fondly remember the gradual evolution, even the occasional bug and cursed glitch that come with leading the way. Every season has brought something new, sometimes monumental breakthroughs. Here are some of the highlights:
Picture quality and size. This was the most visible and fundamental progression. MLB.TV started as a "postage stamp" in 2002 and grew to "breathtaking." Online streaming went from option B as a broadcast viewing experience to a fact of life in society. Calibration was added to determine your connection speed and deliver the best possible picture. A 1.2-megabits-per-second stream and a 16x9-widescreen format were introduced in 2008, and HD quality was ushered in a year later.
All the games. In 2003, MLB became the first league to stream its full regular-season schedule live online -- where television broadcast feeds were available. In 2005, MLBAM wired all MLB ballparks to provide TV-quality live video for all regular season games. MLB.com broadcast games if the local clubs were not airing a particular game. Today, all 2,430 games are streamed live each season, and select Spring Training exhibitions have increased in number.
Portability. Being able to watch live games everywhere around the world on connected and mobile devices truly changed everything. In 2009, fans gained access to games through Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch via the MLB.com At Bat app and interactive media platforms such as Boxee and Roku. The list of devices proliferated, expanding to such platforms as iPad, Android and Sony PlayStation 2, and this season fans are even watching on Microsoft's XBox Live.
Clickable linescores. DVR functionality emerged in 2009, and the ability to go to a specific half-inning made a huge difference for those wanting to replay specific action. Today it is natural to go to a specific at-bat in a Felix Hernandez perfect game to quickly review a key out.
Home and Away. In the early days, there was one club broadcast for each available game, and you hoped it was your own broadcast crew. If you were an Indians fans watching an Indians-White Sox game, you were thrilled to see a live stream but were definitely settling if Hawk Harrelson was screaming "Mercy!" from a Chicago viewpoint. In 2008, MLB.TV provided home and away broadcast feeds for every game. Then you also had the ability to choose that by video or audio feed, as well as Spanish where available and finally a "Park" setting with ambient sound.
Geolocation. MLB has many broadcast rightsholder contracts, local and national, and MLBAM's landmark ability to determine user location and base delivery on that was the difference in enabling out-of-market streaming that would not infringe on those TV agreements.
Multi-game view. Remember MLB.TV Mosaic? Launched in 2006, it let fans watch up to six games simultaneously. The new MLB.TV media player that launched in 2009 featured multi-game viewing options that are widely used today. It is scoreboard-watching season again, and this is a reminder that there is no better way to track what will be epic pennant races.
Real-time mobile video alerts. Starting in 2008, key plays were delivered to you within minutes on mobile devices. Now it is taken for granted that when your favorite player hits that big home run, it will be on the At-Bat app within moments so you can show your friends or family.
"I think it's great. It expands the game," Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler said. "It raises the awareness around it. You can no longer just see what game is on TV, but you also can see your favorite team anywhere."
Watching for sons and holograms
Chris Nelson is typical of many Major Leaguers whose exploits are watched live by parents and other family members through the wonders of MLB.TV.
"It's great, my dad uses it all the time," the Rockies' infielder said. "He took my sister to Kansas, and he was traveling down the road and watching the game at the same time. He was just saying how the technology has come a long way. MLB.TV was wonderful."
Relax, his father was not actually the one watching the screen while driving.
"He uses an iPhone," Nelson elaborated. "He'll be driving and my mom will be holding the iPhone, so they have the game on while they're in the car."
It is harder to find baseball families who do not utilize MLB.TV to watch their own big leaguer than it is to find those who do. Like Dickey and Nelson, the cases are widespread.
"I know my family uses it a lot to stream the games, through the computer and what-not," Red Sox reliever Mark Melancon said. "It's been a blessing for my parents to be able to see me at any point in time, basically. My wife at home, she loves it. It's great. I'm glad the technology has come that far, and Major League Baseball has used that technology."
"Being from New York and playing in Colorado, it's nice that your family can watch the games easily on a computer like that," Rockies pitcher Adam Ottavino said. "Even when I was in the Minor Leagues, I had an account, so I could check out all the Major League stuff going on all around. It's just really cool. You get to see everything."
Mashable calls MLBAM "a market leader when it comes to digital" and Fortune says MLB.TV is "cutting edge of how sports fans are using technology." So the question is, what's next? Where is MLB.TV 10 years from now?
Ask Dickey, baseball's resident "Star Wars" expert who even has his own Darth Vader attire. He thought about it after batting practice, looked ahead into the future and said:
"At the pace it's going, you're probably going to see little holograms pop up on a lifetime diamond in your house. I don't know. The guys who work the sites and do this stuff, it's pure magic."