YouTube landed a deal with Major League Baseball that will see it and Google’s subscription service, YouTube TV, receive exclusive rights to distribute 13 games to the U.S. and Canada, according to Variety. This isn’t a streaming-only deal; Google’s two main video products will be the only way to watch these games in countries where existing deals aren’t already in place. Even the usual TV networks and the MLB.tv subscription-streaming service won’t get access to these broadcasts.
Though the specific games have not yet been announced, they will take place during the second half of this year’s MLB regular season. YouTube viewers around the world will be able to catch the action on MLB’s official YouTube channel, while U.S. YouTube TV subscribers will be treated to a dedicated MLB channel later this year. “It’s incredible to team up with Major League Baseball for this first-of-its-kind deal together to provide both diehard baseball fans and our YouTube community with live games exclusively on YouTube and YouTube TV,” Timothy Katz, YouTube’s head of sports and news partnerships, said in a statement. “With Major League Baseball’s expanding international fanbase, we are confident YouTube’s global audience will bring fans around the world together in one place to watch the games and teams they love.”
The MLB deal is interesting for two reasons: First, it shows a willingness on Google’s part to make the necessary investments in sports content that will give it a competitive position in the live TV streaming space — one which already has plenty of sports-centric options like FuboTV, and Sling TV’s Orange package. Second, in locking up not only the streaming rights but complete exclusivity, the deal represents one of the few times an over-the-top (OTT) service will be the only way to view the kind of sports content which has traditionally been broadcast-only fare.
With the live TV streaming space already at a fever pitch in terms of competition, and with new players like Apple and Disney about to create more options for how viewers spend their limited monthly budgets, exclusive sports deals like this one may become an important point of differentiation, making a service like YouTube TV harder to walk away from.