It's no secret that for years MLB has taken a pretty persistent approach to controlling the sharing / distribution of its highlights. While fans of other sports had the opportunity – even encouraged – to share highlights on their social media platforms, MLB tracked those who used highlights without consent.
The most notable example was in April 2018 with @PitchingNinja, a Twitter account owned by Rob Friedman, showing clips of pitches thrown by MLB hurlers diving and diving and moving in stunning ways. The hugely popular and rapidly growing account – it had close to 50,000 followers at the time – was closed by Twitter after MLB filed a complaint about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Why on earth would MLB want to close a Twitter account that only promotes a certain exciting element of their product?
That's a damn good question. The response to the Pitching Ninja shutdown has been pretty unanimous in contrast to MLB's actions and to MLB's merit of the listening powers. Friedman's account was quickly restored and he signed a contract to work with MLB as an independent contractor. The @ PitchingNinja account now has 248,000 followers and has spun off the @flatgroundapp (44,000 followers) and @flatgroundbats (25,000 followers) accounts.
It's a happy ending to a situation that will almost certainly never happen again.
Why is that? Because now pretty much any fan – with the blessings, encouragement, and support of MLB – can do pretty much exactly what Friedman got in trouble for in 2018.
“Our philosophy has evolved over the past few years, and I think we have now reached the point where we believe we can make our content available to our fans, especially our younger fans, in a way that It's easy for them Consumption is really important, ”said Chris Marinak, MLB's chief operations and strategy officer. "We feel like we're a mainstream entertainment product and want to make sure we're mainstream to our fan base." I think when we saw what was happening in relation to the digital media ecosystem, we felt like we had to do what was best for our fans and that is exactly what we did to be one over time Make adjustments. "
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MLB officially launched the Film Room – a product that has been in the works for two years – on September 8th. Year-over-year, the number of users who searched the MLB.com video portal rose immediately by 253 percent. With Film Room, any user can search the MLB video archive to create a "role" of up to five games and share that role on any platform – be it on social media, via SMS, email, or whatever.
And the archives are extensive. How extensive?
The extensive library of historical moments and highlights already contained in the database is retained with this addition: every single pitch in the last three years has its own clip. As of the 2020 regular season alone, there are more than 262,000 searchable parking spaces. For the 2020 postseason, there were almost 14,500 spaces in the database for Game 2 of the World Series. There are now approximately 3.75 million baseball videos for fans to browse.
"It literally gives you the keys to the kitchen so to speak," Marinak said. “You can do whatever you want to access historical video and highlights, and you can literally post it anywhere. You can write it, you can post it on any social channel, and I think what we've seen from younger fans, GenZ in particular, is that they have their favorites in terms of the platforms they enjoy using and they are basically on these platforms 24 hours a day. And if you don't work with them and get to where they are, you will be left out. And for us, in order to generate the next generation of fans, it is important that we are on the platforms they are on so that they can continue to have the dialogue about baseball in their daily conversations. "
Each clip can be browsed by different options: pitcher, batsman, pitch type, pitch score, how many runners on the base, day / night game, year, inning, how many outs, etc.
So let's say you specifically wanted to watch the homers that were hit against the Rays in the 2020 postseason. You select the rays as a pitching team, select all four playoff rounds under Game Type and then select "Home Run" as the game result. At this point you can sort them by highest / lowest pitch speed, highest / lowest exit speed, and longest / shortest hit distance. Let's choose the highest exit speed.
Then click "Add to Role" to see the top five results. The result is a 3-minute 14-second video. The Share button allows you to post directly to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or Pintrest, with URLs for any other platform and an embed code for websites. Here's what I came up with, a process that took less than a minute.
This is how it works: For every game, regular and after the season, between 10 and 20 clips are made immediately available via Film Room. Every second place is made available between 60 and 90 minutes after the final.
And MLB of course pays attention to what is created.
“The biggest thing we look at are the highlight roles that most viewers have and the characteristics of those roles to decide if there are other things that we should automatically produce that we do as part of our production process bring out, "said Marinak." We know there are many things that people are interested in that we don't produce. Going through the data, we saw a number of different things. I think defensive games are what comes up the most, what the fans put together. "
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As soon as Baseball learns what users are looking for, it will continue with product updates. For example, additional "each field" years could be added. The number of clips allowed per roll has been increased from five. Editing options are possible. "Everything is on the table," said an MLB source.
There are a couple of things MLB is still monitoring as far as the highlights go. Fans can share freely, but highlights monetization is not allowed. And MLB is still on the lookout for pirated videos. In the past few years, pirated content – clips from feeds other than the main feed, or iPhone videos from your TV, etc. – has sometimes been the only option. But now?
"This Film Room product was the final step in our evolution of our highlights philosophy," said Marinak. "The reason it's the last step is because you literally can't ask for anything else. We gave you everything. It's all there. There's no need to go anywhere."
Marinak said MLB did not set out to develop a product called "Film Room", but that product was the end result of trying to solve a problem.
"We have known for a number of years that we need to create a more liberal process for accessing our highlights and in-game videos," said Marinak. “… We started two years ago with the words: 'We have a technology problem that we need to solve. We need to find a way to quickly and efficiently access this video, with all the metadata you would expect from a clipped video – the hitter, the pitcher, the outcome of the game, all that stuff. “Well, we started that two years ago. "
A partnership with Google Cloud announced on March 3rd was key to accelerating the process to the point where it was launched on September 8th.
"We have really used their analysis and learning infrastructure to accelerate the technology development process," said Marinak. “That was the last step. After cementing that partnership, we used their technology to do much of the back-end work that goes into the product. "
After that, it was just a matter of figuring out the marketing and product problems such as: B. Screen / user interface design, publishing process optimization, branding, etc.
How does Film Room work from a technical point of view?
"We have a number of machine learning algorithms that watch the video live during the game. When a game ends, it understands what happened during a game because we associate all of our flagged data with a game," Marinak said. “So it'll tell you who the pitcher was, who the batsman, what the outcome of the game was, and then our machine learning algorithms will automatically cut, crop, and assign any associated metadata. After we perfected all of these technologies, it was easy to make this library available and give fans what they asked for to give them access to the full library. We enjoyed doing that this year. "
And judging by the reaction, the fans enjoyed consuming.