Major League Baseball has made me a pirate, with no regrets.
Nick Ross, on Australia’s ABC, makes “The Case for Piracy.” His article argues that piracy often results, essentially, from market failure: customers are willing to pay content owners for access to material, and the content owners refuse – because they can’t be bothered to serve that market or geography, because they are trying to force consumers onto another platform, or because they are trying to leverage interest in, say, Premier League matches as a means of getting cable customers to buy the Golf Network. The music industry made exactly these mistakes before the combination of Napster and iTunes forced them into better behavior: MusicNow and Pressplay were expensive disasters, loaded with DRM restrictions and focused on preventing any possible re-use of content rather than delivering actual value. TV content owners are now making the same mistake.
Take, for example, MLB. I tried to purchase a plan to watch the baseball playoffs on mlb.com – I don’t own a TV, and it’s a bit awkward to hang out at the local pub for 3 hours. MLB didn’t make it obvious how to do this. Eventually, I clicked a plan that indicated it would allow me to watch the entire postseason for $19.99, and gladly put in my credit card number.
My mistake. It turns out that option is apparently for non-U.S. customers. I learned this the hard way when I tried to watch an ALDS game, only to get… nothing. No content, except an ad that tried to get me to buy an additional plan. That’s right, for my $19.99, I receive literally nothing of value. When I e-mailed MLB Customer Service to try to get a refund, here’s the answer I received: “Dear Valued Subscriber: Your request for a refund in connection with your 2011 MLB.TV Postseason Package subscription has been denied in accordance with the terms of your purchase.” Apparently the terms allow fraud.
Naturally, I’m going to dispute the charge with my credit card company. But here’s the thing: I love baseball. I would gladly pay MLB to watch the postseason on-line. And yet there’s no way to do so, legally. In fact, apparently the only people who can are folks outside the U.S. And if you try to give them your money anyway, they’ll take it, and then tell you how valued you are. But you’re not.
So, I’m finding ways to watch MLB anyway. If you have suggestions or tips, offer ’em in the comments – there must be a Rojadirecta for baseball. And next season, when I want to watch the Red Sox, that’s the medium I’ll use – not MLB’s Extra Innings. MLB has turned me into a pirate, with no regrets.
Cross-posted at Prawfsblawg.