In Ottawa on Wednesday, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission approved an application from Rogers Communications to broadcast the MLB Network in Canada. The network will be included as a cable option in the near future as part of the nation’s non-Canadian programming.
You might think that such news would bring great rejoicing to the halls of a Canadian baseball blog’s offices. Flutes of sparkling maple syrup for everyone! However, the upcoming availability of the MLB Network is much like the Final Destination movie franchise – a great premise best suited to remaining theoretical. The grape you can’t reach is always the sweetest, and in our imaginations, a television network devoted to baseball is great. In practice, the MLB Network is largely unwatchable.
In its previous state, as something hoped for but unseen, Canadian baseball fans heaped impossible expectations on all of the possibilities that MLB Network, or an all-baseball network, could present. On August 13, 2008, Rogers Communications was granted approval by the CRTC for a broadcast license to provide something called Baseball TV, a national, English-language specialty channel devoted to the coverage of baseball. The presumed thinking at the time was that Rogers stood to make more money by combining the content that it already purchased from Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays with more purchased content from MLB Network in a channel of their own, rather than merely adding MLB Network as an option to its cable sports package.
It made sense for Rogers. At any point since MLB Network first began airing, less than four months after Rogers was approved for its Baseball TV licence, the Canadian Communications behemoth could have attempted to bring the station to Canada. However, without direct equity in it, there was little motivation for Rogers to try, especially considering how much baseball content in Canada that it already owned. Despite lengthy negotiations, an agreement between MLB and Rogers for additional content couldn’t be reached, and so the licence for MLB TV remained suspended until it expired last year.
When Rogers applied to add the MLB Network to its cable offering this summer, it was largely seen as an opportunity for the cable service provider elicit additional subscriptions to its services. It was an answer to an increased demand that didn’t exist in 2008. The 2012 season marked a dramatic surge in baseball viewership for Rogers Sportsnet, especially in the key 18-34 year-old demographic.
That’s largely due to Toronto Blue Jays games, which makes things interesting for the MLB Network in Canada. Because the application was approved as non-Canadian programming, it means that viewers will be spared from having to tolerate uniquely Canadian content on the channel. Instead, they will be forced to suffer through copious amounts of air time for the buffoonery of Harold Reynolds and Kevin Millar.
Baseball fans are typically more interested in their favorite baseball team than baseball as a whole. This is the symptom of a schedule that consists of 162 games per season, with contests on every night. Such a format creates strong regional interest in individual teams, but it does not necessarily translate into the same type national or more widespread interest. As National Football League fans are prone to flock to nationally broadcast games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday night, baseball fans normally have alternate programming in the form of their favorite team readily available to them.
So, the niche market for which the MLB Network is built consists mainly of serious baseball fans like myself, and presumably readers of Getting Blanked. However, the content that they’re providing – aside from live coverage and Clubhouse Confidential – is built to appeal to the lowest common denominator of baseball fans, or whoever it is that can stand Chris Rose’s shit-eating grin or thinks that whatever Mitch Williams says is the least bit interesting, let alone meaningful.
Of course, we have already seen the results of the content and market mismatch in the United States, where the MLB Network has been less than a boon for cable providers. It consistently ranks last among cable networks in terms of viewership.
Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2012-637. [CRTC]
Baseball TV – Category 2 Specialty Service. [CRTC]
Rogers Looks To Bring MLB Network To Canada. [Globe And Mail]
It’s Confidential Because Nobody Sees It. [Getting Blanked]