Should Major League Baseball content providers charge one price for all?July 23, 2010: 5:49 PM ET
If it doesn't find a solution, the MLB could find itself with a consumer riot.
By Kevin Maney, contributor
From Major League Baseball's point of view, content providers are going to have to figure out how to charge one price for aggregated packages of content. Otherwise, consumers are going to rebel against "a la carte creep," said MLB.com CEO Bob Bowman in a lunch session at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference.
"It's not that hard to imagine a world where there should be one price (for live on-line games) for all four major sports leagues," Bowman said. But, he added, there are no obvious ways to make that happen.
MLB.com charges $60 to $80 for season-long access to live baseball games via the Web. The model works for baseball, and Bowman can't fathom why owners of valuable content would give it away free on line. Premium news operations like The New York Times or the producers of a show such as Lost need to charge even if it seems unpopular. "My advice to content providers is to charge and stick with it," Bowman said. "It's hard to be patient in an instant world. We try to preach patience."
However, Bowman sees a looming problem. If all the sports leagues, TV channels and news operations separately charge for content, consumers will find themselves paying dozens of subscription bills, each time filling in credit card numbers and building up expensive viewing habits. "The problem is there's not one system for how to charge for content," Bowman said. "If it's all a la carte, it's not very friendly."
Bowman said he admires the cable TV model of charging one price for a various tiers and packages of content, and laments that there seems to be no system like that on the horizon for Web-based content.
In the meantime, he emphatically said that MLB games will not find their way onto Hulu or any other free sites. Baseball fans will have to buy subscriptions through the MLB.com site or apps on smart phones and tablets.