In what can only be construed as a major defeat for media giant RealNetworks, yesterday Microsoft and Major League Baseball (MLB) announced a broad deal in which Microsoft's MSN online services will promote MLB products and provide exclusive free online baseball content in Windows Media format. The online content will include live baseball games, Microsoft says.
"MSN is our top choice to provide live video Internet broadcasts of all MLB games because it is the number-one general destination on the Web, with 350 million monthly unique visitors worldwide," Allan H. "Bud" Selig, the commissioner of baseball, said. "MSN's global reach, significant subscriber base, and software innovation enable us to bring Major League Baseball to the most far-reaching audience in the most exciting way possible."
Both Microsoft and MLB noted that the deal is "all encompassing" but not exclusive, making it possible for MLB to adopt other formats as well, including formats from RealNetworks, which once had an exclusive MLB deal. But that deal ran out after the 2003 baseball season, prompting MLB to seek deals with RealNetworks' rivals. RealNetworks recently sued MLB for breach of contract, alleging that the organization violated a newer, nonexclusive deal with RealNetworks when it announced its intention to provide baseball content in Windows Media formats.
MLB says it will continue to offer customers the RealNetworks format option when the regular baseball season starts next week but, currently, preseason games are available only in Windows Media format. This situation, RealNetworks says, is a violation of its contract with MLB. Separately, RealNetworks is also suing Microsoft in federal court, alleging that the company has abused its market power to limit RealNetworks' business.