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Apple discussing potential deal with MLB to carry package of games

Package MLB has been attempting to sell is weekday national games that ESPN recently relinquished, which were not exclusive in local marketsGETTY IMAGES

Apple has had "substantial talks about carrying Major League Baseball games next season," and if a deal is finalized, it "would represent a significant milestone in sports broadcasting since Apple has long been looked upon as a potential stop for major sports TV rights," according to Andrew Marchand of the N.Y. POST. A potential MLB-Apple deal "would not be anywhere close to the magnitude of the NFL and Amazon -- which is for more than a billion dollars per year -- but MLB and Apple would be the entrée for the technology behemoth into the coverage of top live sports." The package MLB has been attempting to sell is "weekday national games that ESPN recently relinquished." The ESPN games "were not exclusive in local markets." It is "unclear at this point if Apple would be allowed to wall off these select games" from RSN coverage. Apple would be "expected to make the games available through its subscription service, Apple TV+" (N.Y. POST, 1/11).

POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: SBJ's John Ourand writes the deal, which is not completed and still may not happen, is for a package that none of the linear TV networks wanted -- non-exclusive weeknight games that would air side-by-side with the same games on RSNs. These were the worst performing baseball games on ESPN, generally hovering between 500,000-600,000 viewers. That doesn’t sound like the type of deal that excites a company worth $3T. The upside for Apple is that this could be a low-cost, low-risk way for the Silicon Valley giant to test live sports for Apple TV+. But for a company that has such a fiscally conservative culture, the potential downside of this deal could be enormous for sports leagues and conferences. It’s fashionable to see this potential deal as a stepping stone for Apple as it gets aggressive in trying to land NBA rights when they come up after the '24-25 season. But what if the baseball package, which has underperformed historically on TV, also underperforms on Apple TV+ and leaves the company with a negative impression for sports rights? Sports rights are buried deep on Apple CEO Tim Cook’s priority list right now (John Ourand, SBJ Media).

POCKET PROTECTORS: CNBC’s David Faber said, "Apple’s got a lot of money to spend on content if they choose to do so, and they have ramped it up.” Faber also noted Amazon "is there” with sports rights, and the ecommerce giant has “unlimited pockets if they choose to actually be involved in terms of competing with the likes of a Disney and ESPN." Amazon "still want a return on that capital as well, but they have dipped their toe" (“Squawk on the Street,” CNBC, 1/11). WFAN’s Gregg Giannotti, on the Apple news: “Why would you waste your money on that? Baseball is so regional. ... You're not going to get anybody flocking to your Apple TV+ because you're putting a couple baseball games on there.” But Giannotti added, “If it’s the NFL, sure, money well-spent. Amazon wants to take the next step with sports, getting ‘Thursday Night Football’ on there, potentially getting the ‘Sunday NFL Ticket’ on there. … I'll buy that in a heartbeat” (“Boomer and Gio,” WFAN, 1/11).

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While tech companies are consumed with finding ways to compete with TikTok, almost no one in conventional media “spends any time talking about it,” said Recode senior correspondent Peter Kafka in an Spotlight interview with SBJ’s John Ourand. “To me, that’s just an obvious disconnect.” Kafka authored a recent column headlined, “It’s TikTok’s world. Can TV live in it?” He said the main response to TikTok’s growth from traditional media execs has been to “punt and hope it’s someone else’s problem a quarter from now or two years from now.” But Kafka said that ignores the trend of conventional broadcast audiences growing older while a billion younger consumers spend most of their media time watching short video after short video. “If you’re in the business of getting anyone under the age of 30 to look at what you’re putting on a screen, you have to think about the fact that you’re probably asking them to put down TikTok and watch your thing instead,” said Kafka. “That’s a very difficult ask. … [TikTok] is insanely addictive.”

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