Location Tracking Is Crucial to Baseball Webcasts

As Major League Baseball Inc. intensifies its commitment to online video programming — it reportedly signed a $40 million, two-year deal to allow streaming by the MSN Premium Internet service — geolocation becomes all the more important.

Geolocation is the technology that immediately determines the real-world location of an online visitor. It is critical to MLB's plans for MLB.TV, the subscription-based online feed of games played around the country.

“What we're providing is a database with information that allows MLB to approximate the location of a visitor to a Web site,” said Marie Alexander, president/CEO of Quova Inc., MLB's technology provider on this effort.

Quova, Mountain View, CA, has collected data on 1.4 billion IP addresses. Its GeoPoint database comprises information pulled from Web registries, analyst data and self-gathered IP addresses. There are 13 pieces of data for each IP address.

“What we're looking for is all those trace routes coinciding at the same end point,” Alexander said.

Launched a year ago, MLB.TV is an online video service offering live Webcasts to computers of U.S. subscribers or pay-per-view customers with broadband Internet access.

But like many content owners, channel conflict is a major issue for MLB. So, legally and economically, it is important for MLB.TV not to infringe on the exclusive broadcast rights given by the 30 major-league teams to local and regional TV channels. A nationally televised game on ESPN, for example, will be blacked out in the home city and shown on the local channel. That extends to Webcasts, too.

Quova's database-based service therefore is crucial to enforce this exclusivity for the effective sale of live baseball Webcasts to online customers.

Customers can go directly to MLB.TV or via the site at www.MLB.com to access that service to register and enter credit card details. Fans with broadband access can view up to 60 games weekly for $79.95 for a full-season subscription. It costs $14.94 for a month's subscription, $2.95 to view one game.

Once registered, the subscriber uses the MLB.TV drop-down menu to access the day's schedule, clicks on the pertinent link to the game and logs in with the selected username and password.

What happens next is key. Quova's GeoPoint offering immediately identifies the subscriber's location to determine his or her right to view that game. It will block access if the online user is located in either team's home area as gauged by the ZIP code and city-level verification. Nationally televised games are pre-emptively blocked.

For example, if the New York Yankees are playing the Boston Red Sox, online subscribers in both cities are denied access to MLB.TV's Webcast because their local channels typically broadcast the game.

If access is not denied, the process is straightforward. Quova's GeoPoint verifies the subscriber's location along with other data points used by MLB.TV. The online feed then begins automatically, and the subscriber can watch the game on an Internet-linked computer even while traveling.

It is important to note that approval is based on the subscriber's actual location when the viewing request is made, not on the billing address. Data are updated twice a month under the deal inked between MLB and Quova.

Using such technology, MLB.TV now generates new Webcasting revenue for sharing by the 30 baseball teams in 26 regional North American markets. And it protects those teams' local broadcast rights.

Alexander said MLB.TV's popularity is making great strides. When it began in March 2003, MLB hoped to get 25,000 subscribers. By the end of the season in October, it had 150,000.

While GeoPoint seems logical for MLB and similar franchisees, it is also useful for retailers looking to restrict promotions to certain markets via the Internet. An even better candidate is the gambling industry. Unsurprisingly, Quova has customers like Harrah's, Hard Rock Casino and Grand Virtual.

“The gambling industry has a very serious problem,” Alexander said. “They have to ensure you're in a legal jurisdiction when you're playing online.”

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