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Baseball blacks-out online

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Comment You won't find a more un-American business than Major League Baseball's online arm - MLB Advanced Media. There. We said it.

The refined version of capitalism crafted here in the good, old US of A tends to demand that you release a product at a given price and then make that product better and cheaper over time. This formula doesn't hold in all cases, but it holds in most, and it should damn sure hold when we're talking about an online service related to the national pastime.

But here we are paying $14.95 a month to watch baseball games online and are receiving a service that has degraded faster than Barry Bonds' home run swing.

Baseball took the lead among all major US sports by offering up an online package starting in 2002. Back then, you paid $4.95 per month for audio of every single game - both live and archived. In 2003, MLB Advanced Media started selling MLB.TV for $14.95 a month. That price allowed you to watch all the live games (full screen in Real or Windows media) you wanted out of your market and to grab audio feeds as well - a huge plus when your game happened to be blacked out.

Blacked out?

For those of you unfamiliar with the archaic rules surrounding baseball broadcasts, here's a brief recap framed in the context of the online debate.

When you fire up the MLB video player, it checks the zip code linked to your credit card and your IP address. The video player wants to make sure you're not trying to watch a game online that is being broadcast in your region. So, if you live in San Francisco, you're not meant to watch the San Francisco Giants online. You're meant to watch the game on TV or go to the stadium. The teams, advertisers, TV networks and others want to protect their hometown revenue. This leaves MLB.com as an option for those living in San Francisco who are more interested in say the Houston Astros or St Louis Cardinals than in the Giants.

But under baseball's rules, Astros fans living in San Francisco can still be screwed. You're blacked out, for example, if the Giants travel to Houston for a game. You also can't watch Astros games online when they're being broadcast nationally by ESPN or Fox. The national blackouts are pretty hilarious. This weekend, for example, we couldn't watch the Astros versus Marlins game on Saturday because it was part of Fox's Saturday baseball package. Of course, Fox wasn't even showing the Astros versus Marlins here in Silicon Valley. It was showing the Giants versus the Phillies. Besides that, we don't get Fox on our janky TV.

This situation becomes even worse if you live in a state such as Iowa that borders numerous team regions. We've seen complaints from subscribers who are considered to be in the home market of six different teams. On any given day, you have to double that figure to include those teams' opponents for the total blackout figure.

That's where baseball has let us down. Here's where MLB Advanced Media has let us down.

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