Major League Baseball has been on the cutting-edge of iPhone applications since it debuted the At Bat application at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2008. At Bat delivers audio and video highlights, but not real-time games.
Wednesday, MLB.com is releasing a new product--live video streaming of certain baseball games for the iPhone and iPod Touch, with an eye toward providing the full slate of MLB games (some free, some presumably for an additional charge) over the next several months as the season progresses. The new offering is based on the upgrades coming in the iPhone 3.0 software that is being rolled out Wednesday.
There will initially be two games each day, chosen by MLB.com. (The games are subject to local blackout restrictions with Thursday's 2:20 p.m. game between the Chicago Cubs and White Sox the first to be streamed live.)
According to The New York Times, "the video will play regardless of whether an iPhone is connected to a Wi-Fi network or a 3G network. MLB.com says its servers will detect the strength of the phone's connection and adapt the quality of the video accordingly. (It should be interesting to see the quality of the video over AT&T's sometime spotty network.) The application also has DVR features, so users can pause and rewind live games from their device."
This is of course big news if you are a baseball fan, but it's also big news from a technology standpoint. MLB.com has long provided scores and data in every form (RSS, XML, FTP, etc.) possible, making it easy for users and partners to consume it in the way they desire. This approach means that MLB.com is the service of record for all information, and the can command higher dollars as it eliminates transactional and data management middlemen. I spent some time with the MLB.com tech team a few years back and was overwhelmed with how sophisticated their approach to system architecture and data delivery was--far beyond any other content provider I've seen.
The new service also opens up a can of worms regarding content delivery coming directly from the source versus networks or third parties, but I would say that the vast majority of content providers don't have the technical infrastructure or abilities that MLB.com does. Until that day comes, these kind of applications will continue to be delivered through a means separate from the content provider itself.
Ultimately, every content provider will need to be able to deliver content to every device, the remaining question is how they will do it and if the economics will work out in their favor.
Follow me on Twitter @daveofdoom.