As the San Francisco Giants took on the Kansas City Royals for the final two games of the 2014 World Series, a portion of the team’s South Bay fans arrived at Antonio’s Nut House in Palo Alto to take in the action and cheer the team to its third World Series title since 2010.
The Giants battled through a variety of tough plays and close calls, and fans would cheer or scream out in agony — and then almost immediately return to their phones. The glow of small screens was as prevalent as orange and black attire.
Dozens of fans watched the game with their phone or tablet at arms length, and in many cases, right in front of their faces. But while the contemporary baseball viewer appears to be glued to their personal devices, former MLB Advanced Media editorial producer Jay Lee says that the trend, dubbed the “second screen” phenomenon, is something welcomed by Major League Baseball’s media division. Lee is now a graduate student in the Stanford Journalism Program. (Editor’s Note: Peninsula Press is a project of the Stanford Journalism Program.)
“Baseball fans are always consuming media, whether that’s on TV, on the Internet, or reading newspapers,” Lee said. “MLB Advanced Media has a really cool opportunity to combine all mediums into one place and allow fans to have access to pictures, videos, articles, highlights and social media, all within one app.”
Sam Lindauer, a current editorial producer at MLB Advanced Media, says there is a concerted effort to promote the application and drive users towards mobile access. “A big part of what we do is just promoting the use of the app. That’s really Advanced Media’s bread and butter.”
While broadcast ratings for baseball have slowed, its digital presence is thriving. Mobile devices have enabled fans around the world to connect to games and communicate directly with teams and players.
The results have been staggering. MLB.com has a paying subscriber base of more than 3.5 million users for its streaming service. Its digital video streaming service MLB.TV supports more than 400 mobile and connected devices, with more than 60 percent of its traffic coming from mobile devices.
Its flagship mobile application, MLB At Bat, hosts a variety of features. Its in-game Gameday feature, for example, provides users with a real-time boxscore of the game, complete with pitch locations and type, relevant player statistics, and in-game summaries and video highlights. For baseball fans like Kevin Heller and Brian Tashjian, the MLB At Bat experience is something of a holy grail — filled with information and media structured in a sensible way to baseball fans.
Like many other baseball fans, the two base their foundational knowledge of a given player’s performance by their statistics. “That’s how I had grown accustomed to getting to know players,” Tashjian said.
The At Bat application also allows fans to stream local radio in real time from anywhere in the world, allowing fans to listen to their hometown announcers despite being in a different time zone or even continent. For fans like Matt Lynch, who describes an “affinity” for listening to radio broadcasts, this capability can have a significant impact on their relationship with their hometown team.
Lee said that MLB Advanced Media’s early investment and development of an infrastructure for streaming video has resulted in huge payoff. In addition to the earnings from its own product pipeline, MLB Advanced Media generates revenue by providing video streaming for a number of partners like ESPN.
Cory Haik, an executive producer and senior editor at The Washington Post, says that heavy investment in mobile development is critical in today’s climate, despite a lack of immediate ad revenue.
“The experience is very intimate — it’s personal. You’re holding it in your hand,” she said.
Haik said mobile traffic often surpassed desktop traffic for certain content at The Washington Post in 2014, including video engagement.
“It’s an area of explosive growth,” she said.
Recently, HBO announced that it will be partnering with MLB Advanced Media to launch its highly anticipated standalone streaming service after failing to develop its own proprietary system.
Another critical component of the application and second-screen experience relates to social context. Ryan Hubbard, who watched the game at the Nut House with a group of friends, uses his phones to add a social component. Even when physically sitting with a group of friends, Hubbard said that he enjoys connecting with other friends throughout the country who are also watching the game.
MLB Advanced Media seems to have recognized the importance of implementing social features, as it added real-time social media capability to the application’s package of features.
“Social media is a great way to not only connect fans with content, but also to connect fans straight to the teams,” Lee said.
According to Lindauer, MLB Advanced Media is dedicated to picking up on new platforms and connecting with fans. “They don’t want to be late to any new social media party.”