June 1, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

MLB aims brushback pitch at Slingbox

One high-and-inside pitch can be harmless in baseball, but two in a row is a strongly worded message.

This week Major League Baseball lobbed its second brushback pitch at Slingbox, reiterating its stance that the young company is misusing its content. It's not the first time a content owner has expressed concerns over the legality of the trapezoid-shaped set-top box, yet no one has actually filed suit.

But if a content owner did actually follow through with a lawsuit, it could be a tough case to make in court, say industry observers.

"I think (MLB is) deploying that rhetoric to chill innovation in this segment. I don't think it's working, but I think it would be a big blow to the entertainment industry if they went to court and lost," said Fred von Lohmann, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But von Lohmann says that doesn't mean MLB won't sue.

MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), the division responsible for MLB.com and its MLB.tv package, says it hasn't ruled out that prospect. At a recent sports law symposium at Fordham University, The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. reported that MLBAM's General Counsel Michael Mellis called the popular set-top box's place-shifting feature illegal.

"Of course, what they are doing is not legal," said Mellis. "We and other leagues have formed a group to study the issue and plan our response. A lot depends on ongoing discussions. Plus, there's no guarantee that Slingbox will be around next year. It's a start-up."

In an interview with CNET News.com, Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian said it was "a ridiculous statement" to say the Slingbox is illegal. Krikorian also questioned whether MLB has joined with other professional sports leagues to discuss the legal implications of the Slingbox. "Our relationships with the leagues, including MLB as I understand it, are very strong," he said.

"We're watching what (Sling is) doing. We think the issue is not place shifting; we think the issue is transmission shifting."
--MLB.com CEO Bob Bowman

MLB.com seems to take issue with allowing Slingbox owners' TV channels to be transmitted over the Internet. "Moving content from one form of transmission to another certainly invites that kind of analysis," said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB.com, referring to Mellis' statement. For instance, if a TV signal was converted into a radio signal, it might raise the eyebrows of those broadcasters involved. The Slingbox, he added, "is not a place-shifting device, (it) is a delivery-shifting device."

Of all the American professional sports leagues, MLB has one of the richest online portals. Fans can purchase an MLB.tv package to watch any out-of-market game live on the Internet, with up to six simultaneous streams and interactive statistics. Packages range in price from $80 to $110 a year.

Neither the device nor its users appear to be breaking any laws by using it to watch baseball games, say legal experts. On the market for two years now, the Slingbox lets customers watch their own television channels from a remote location via a high-speed Internet connection. Sling says it has sold hundreds of thousands of the devices, available in three models ranging in price from $130 to $250.

Watching sports remotely is arguably one of the Slingbox's most compelling features. A Slingbox allows subscribers to watch the cable channels they have already paid for, but at a different location--the office or a hotel--via a laptop, remote PC or mobile phone.

The same goes for subscribers to MLB's Extra Innings television package, which allows cable and satellite subscribers to pay extra to watch out-of-market games on TV. Again, subscribers with a Slingbox can only tune in those cable or satellite channels they have already purchased.

On opposite teams?
Krikorian is quick to argue that the Slingbox and MLB.com's MLB.tv do not compete directly with each other.

"If I want to watch the (Los Angeles) Dodgers (from San Francisco), an MLB.tv subscription will provide out-of-market games. What the Slingbox does is (give) me access to my local in-market team, my San Francisco Giants, which is what MLB.tv does not provide me when I'm in San Francisco (due to local blackout rules)," said Krikorian. "It's the reason we created the Slingbox."

MLB.com is simply trying to protect its content, particularly its robust MLB.tv offering, said Josh Martin, analyst with The Yankee Group. "It's a burden they have to bear. They have a lot of money riding on it. They don't want to risk their MLB.tv service because people are not using it because they have a Slingbox," he said.

It's a thorny issue because a critic would say MLB wants customers to pay twice for content: once for the original cable feed, and again for MLB.tv to watch a home team when not watching from home.

CONTINUED: Questions of liability…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
Slingbox, MLB, Sling Media, set-top box, set-top


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Call their bluff
You know MLB will not actually sue SlingMedia. They can't afford to lose this one, which clearly they would. If I allow a friend to watch a Red Sox game on my TV in his home which is out of market, thats my choice. I'm not 'retransmitting' the signal, he is actually connecting to a live view of it, but I'm not pushing the content out. Anyway, thats my choice and MLB can come after me if they so desire.
Posted by jfalkingham (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
*sigh* Yet another...
...that is approaching the situation from the wrong direction.

The Slingbox is another way consumers are using the Internet to enjoy the content they paid for in a manner they find convenient to use it. This of course, hurts their subscriptions to MLB.tv, but instead of changing their business model to attract customers back, they decide to sue whoever they can to keep things they way they are.
Posted by Kamokazi (40 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
I couldn't agree more. Has any business ever benefited from refusing to adapt to changing technology?
Posted by murray627 (7 comments )
Link Flag
I don't watch baseball.
Slingbox just just another way to not watch it.

Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great! Lose even more fans!
So no one will watch baseball anymore! People are watching less and less TV at home and at the scheduled times. It's the MLB that will shoot themselves in the foot if they move forward. I thought they were trying increase the fanbase, not destroy it!
Posted by frankz00 (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm sorry, how is MLB's case against Slingbox any different from what I can do with my iPOD? If I want, I can convert movies from DVD to iPOD format and carry them with me. I can convert TV shows and carry them with me as well. It's not real-time, but the point is made.

The location of the consumer, verus geographic location or the time of the content's original broadcast, is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and will continue to do so regardless of what MLB and other outfits may want. Consumers want flexibility, they want choice, and they want low prices. They want, in short, whatever will allow them to do what they want, when they want, for as few bucks as possible. Trying to stand in the way of that demand will drive customers away from your store, not towards it, regardless of what business you're in.

my 2c.
Posted by brianpaige (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Media morons just don't get it...
Doesn't MLB understand that they get a huge portion of their revenue from advertising? So by chasing away SlingViewers, viewer count drops, and so ad revenue should drop in proportion.

What is next for MLB? Go after Tivo users? And then any you-tube users who clip a baseball goof or rant?

MLB- your attorneys have you looking very ignorant of modern media. This will alienate you from the coming generation of MLB fans, not smart. Meanwhile, your attorneys will reap big fees from you for this foolishness. Muzzle your mouthpieces and go back to the dugout with a little humility before you strike out.
Posted by Button Boy (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I subscribe to MLB Audio and placeshift as well (much less popular LocationFreeTV since I can watch on my TV on my PSP) (I guess Slingbox is the target because of their marketshare). Anyhow I don't always get the bandwidth to get a good picture on my PC or PSP so I listen on MLB Audio. Radio/audio is a good medium for baseball anyway. However, if I'm in market, not at home and have the bandwidth to watch from on a 3G network or hotspot I want the choice. MLB TV blackout in market is ridiculous.
Posted by ddandal (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sling is awesome, that's why big media
and the big boys will try and shut their operations down.

I do hope it goes to court and MLB and others in the big boys media get shafted.

Here's one for the little guy.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
they should sue all companies
that make computer, dvd, vcr, etc.
Posted by yaobin (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Illegal? How?
Which law is it that makes this activity illegal? Maybe Brad Smith, GC for Microsoft, moonlights for MLB? This is the same tactic - declare an activity illegal but provide no insight as to why it is illegal. Maybe this is tortious interference but, HELLO, Slingbox is not the only technology to allow consumers to view content at a location other than their house while that content is being broadcast. A consumer still needs to buy the "sports package" (or whatever it is) from the cable provider for the Slingbox to work so MLB is still making their money (and probably plenty of it). The ability of these entertainment companies to act like control freaks has been severely eroded by technological advances.
Posted by 247mark (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Similar to what happened to 321 Studios
This sounds like the start of another "let's trample the small guy with legal fees" tactic.
The sad truth for this case is that slingbox users may not be using it to watch MLB programming. But the "idea" that they can seems to be justification enough.
Posted by Joe Koskovics (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Capitalism still going strong
Posted by ljs2007 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
... and is anyone surprised their legal staff said it is illegal, as the legal staff gets paid win-or-lose!
Posted by Aardasp (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not legal?
"Of course, what they are doing is not legal"

If anyone should be first to file a lawsuit here, it should be Slingbox CEO Blake Krickorian. He should file a defamation suit against the MLB stiff that accused him and his company of marketing a "not legal" product.
Posted by ambigous (58 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I dont see how it is illegal
if your paying for cable you allready payed for the content
and advertisers already payed for the advertisement on the tv if its local
if your sending a book through the mail then should you pay the author
not if he already got payed for it
the only thing your doing here is sending the content you or someone payed for you to a more convenient location
if mlb was smart they would have made their own setup with tivo or cable companys or struck a deal with the company to make a little side cash
instead of using a competitive service
no one is going to pay that much a month for one type of show sport or not
and I dont watch baseball so I couldnt care less about them wanting to sqaush a legal competitor
Posted by Atomic1fire (270 comments )
Reply Link Flag
get a grip MLB
MLB has quite a lot of mediums we pay for( including me). Earlier this year cable subscribers almost didn't have the "baseball package" until cable networks matched the price that DirecTV paid. And how much did XM Radio pay to brodcast every game.
MLB makes millions on all their mediums, and they're worried about people switching their content they already paid for, well we better hide our dvr's and vhs's.
Posted by pagran3220 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MLB has reason to worry ...
I think most of us remember a little thing called Napster. What is preventing people from setting up "networks" of slingboxes that cover the US to "trade" video? If I have a friend in Los Angeles, but I live in San Fransisco, what prevents me from asking him to use his slingbox to watch the Dodgers? MLB is right to nip this in the bud, otherwise it will turn into a Napster sized headache. Slingboxs are obviously forward thinking technology, thus MLB is forced to think one step ahead to prevent abuse.
Posted by randyoaks187 (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree but
Does the Slingbox allow you to keep viewing the games multiple times? If it does then MLB had better stop this now. If the Slingbox can be made to only allow viewing one time, just like a live game, then they should be allowed to operate.
Posted by GrandpaN1947 (187 comments )
Link Flag
MLB needs to providde video telecasts!
If MLB would allow mobile users to access MLB TV or MLB radio, perhaps they wouldn't have to spend the time to sue Slingbox.

When I bought my Cingular Nokia 6682 some 2 1/2 years ago, it included a package whereby I could listen to major league games for a low fee. Also, Yankee games were TELEVISED through mobiTV! These services were canceled soon after I bought the phone because of MLB greediness and, at present, only Sprint subscribers (with the right handset) can see and here games. There is no reason for this! I have purchased a Gameday audio subscription, and MLB actively prevents me from listening via my phone, and actively prevents me from doing so by other means. Thank Goodness for Slingbox! If MLB sues, I'll never subscribe to there crappy, outdated internet service again.
Posted by bleuboy23 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It's time to take MLB to the "Wood Shed"
I like baseball
"I-Chi-Ro" . . . "I-Chi-Ro"!

But I swear it's time to give MLB a quick smack to the back of it's
head and bring it back from it's long standing "Paris Hilton"
position of being too privilaged to be more important than
anything else.

Recently they sued "Fantasy Baseball Leagues" because they
contended that the MLB "Owned Players Stats"

Now they want to sue a company for allowing someone to watch
programing they have already paid for?

Here's some ideas:

Let's strip the MLB from it's exclusive "Antitrust Exemption"
No other proffesional sports organization has one.

Let's sue the MLB for their "Blackout" rules for home games.

Let's sue the MLB for "Price Gouging" since they are a "Monopoly"
$10.00 draft beers? . . . *** is that?
(Oh yeah . . . the tickets are too expesive also ;-) )

I say "Class Action Suit"!
Anyone else have any ideas?
Posted by K.P.C. (227 comments )
Reply Link Flag
corrections . . .
expesive = expensive

And the MLB lost their suit on claiming the "Exclusive Rights" to use
the players stats

Aloha :-)
Posted by K.P.C. (227 comments )
Link Flag
Argh, when AIR for free will be ruled ILLEGAL?
Well, time shifting is illegal, place shifting is illegal, let's free AIR to be illegal as well!So those who did not payed for air should die by horrible death.
Posted by t3st3r` (60 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No need to sue Sling Media
I don't know what all the fuss is about. The Slingbox won't be
around in a couple of years. I doubt that they will be able to
raise another round from the VCs. The bottom line is the box
has too many requirements to gain mass acceptance. First, you
need broadband with good upload speeds. Second, you need a
router. Third, you need a wireless device to view the
programming. Fourth, you need a geek to set it up. Most people
don't have the technical savvy required to make this product

They claim they have sold thousands, Big deal. Assume they go
on average for 200 bucks a pop. Let's say they sold 100
thousand units. That would give them 20M in sales so far, big
deal! They sell their units to the nerds and geeks and then where
do they go? This is no ipod, there will not be mass appeal for
this product and there isn't any itunes type of recurring

One more thing, the lawsuits are probably inevitable as well.
Sling Media is going to have to use some of their powder
defending themselves in court.

These cats are doomed!!!
Posted by wayne95125 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Too many requirements??? Broadband: sure, not everyone has it, but $25 a month and you can. Router: who has broadband without a router? 50 bucks later you have wireless... do you think most broadband users plug their laptops into a modem every time they want to check their email?? Wireless device: I didn't know getting a smartphone, laptop, wifi PDA was sooo restrictive! Difficult to set up? Step one, plug in television feed. Step two, plug in ethernet cable. Step four, plug in AC adaptor. Step five, install included CD software on your computer. Step six, answer a few questions to help optimize your connection.

I run tivo and cable through my slingbox so I can watch the Twins, Wild and Gopher hockey while at school in Pennsylvania, as well as local news and local television. I subscribe to MLB.TV so I can watch Red Sox games and highlights when ESPN is covering the NFL and NBA 24/7/365. mlb.tv drives me nuts when it goes black during commercial breaks and comes back late, missing pitches and commentary. How else can I watch Gopher hockey and Minnesota news in Pennsylvania?

Also, it doesn't need to be an ipod to be a success, the mac has nothing on the pc in terms of sheer numbers, but it isn't disappearing anytime soon. I am not a mac guy, but some people are!

You should read slingbox's instruction sheet before you rip it, it took one tenth of the time it took me to set up my tivo.

Tivo+Slingbox+Router+Laptop=Pure viewing pleasure anytime, anywhere.

And the napster argument? Napster didn't require a password and product code to acquire music, the slingbox does. I cannot redistribute the video either, as recording is not possible. Also, the box works like a remote, giving the user complete control and domination over the attached device, so the number of users on it at any time is limited to the number of inputs it has. So, if you and 5 online friends wanted cable through the internet, you would need a coaxial input, a cable box with RCA outputs, a second cable box with an HD out, a third cable box with an S video output, etc, etc. Not a realistic option or comparison, as you would run out of inputs.

This just shows MLB's complete lack of competence. More fans equals more tickets, more ad revenue, more merch, etc. Why attack a product that increases your fanbase? Why not create a partnership with Sling Media and create a Slingbox Sports box, which would enhance sports playback, give users access to a unique website with increased sports highlights, replays and message boards with a small monthly fee or a small percent of the box sales going to each league... embrace the "wired" fan, don't hamper them!
Posted by ev61 (111 comments )
Link Flag
Thanks for uploading this, it gave me something to read on my lunch break.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.popsoftware.net/" target="_newWindow">http://www.popsoftware.net/</a>
Posted by kent12er (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yet another reason not to watch their games...
Their stupid strike, their overpaid underachieving players in consort with their astronomically overpaid handlers and now this. Go to your local sandlot, support your local minor league, this is as good as it gets.
Posted by boratebomber (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Taking the fun out of sports.
I understand the need for any content providers to protect their intellectual property. However, using a slingbox is no different than watching tv at home, you're just sending the signal elsewhere. IF MLB sues, they will be made to look like fools in court, and it will once again demonstrate the greed inherent in business today.
Posted by norman1971 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.