1995: The Beginning of Internet Baseball Broadcasts

Here, from the Seattle Times of Thursday, August 31, 1995, is a preview of the first online MLB game:

The day when a sports fan can listen to a live game broadcast from anywhere in the world, through a personal computer, is coming.

Next Tuesday, specifically.

That’s when the Seattle Mariners’ game against the New York Yankees will be sent – live – over the Internet, via a new technology developed by a Seattle company.

Basically, it puts live radio on the Internet. It means that for the first time, regardless of whether you live in Montlake or Madrid, you can follow a pennant (or at least wild-card) race as it develops.

ESPN SportsZone, a Bellevue-based service, will carry the game, as well as other major-league broadcasts in the future. SportsZone has been a leader in providing on-line sports information, through its association with ESPN and funding by owner Paul Allen.

“We are thrilled to provide fans with a real-time broadcast of this game,” said Mike Slade, president and chief executive officer of Starwave, the company that owns the Zone. “SportsZone will continue to use cutting-edge technology to provide fans with comprehensive, up-to-the-minute game information.”

The technology was developed by Progressive Networks, whose president and CEO is Rob Glaser, a part owner of the Mariners. The company created “RealAudio,” which allows users to listen to sounds instantly, without the normal time it takes to download audio files.

The update to the product is called “Live RealAudio System,” because it adds the live element. It does that by taking an audio signal, encoding it into RealAudio format. Computer users can download a copy of the decoding software from RealAudio’s Internet site.

The sound quality will be inferior to that of the radio broadcast, and only a few hundred people will be able to receive the initial games, said Kevin Mason, a Mariner official. But the team likes the product because it helps them reach fans in areas outside their market, he said.

The club also wants to “continue to be seen as a leading-edge” company, he said. The Mariners were the first team to set up a site on the World Wide Web, a graphically appealing part of the Internet.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which would later kill its print edition in one of the signs that web media had overtaken non-web media, reported at the same time:

Next week the Mariners won’t play only on the road. They’ll be on the information superhighway, too.

The Mariners will make Internet history when two games against the New York Yankees hit the worldwide computer network. The games, Tuesday and Wednesday in Yankee Stadium, will be Major League Baseball’s first foray into live Internet broadcasts.

The feed that goes out on the 30-station Mariner radio network will be available to subscribers of ESPNET SportsZone, an online sports information service operated by Starwave Corp. of Bellevue.

The prime target of the service will be fans worldwide who don’t have access to radio or TV broadcasts of a favorite team but can hook into the Internet, said Kevin Mason, the Mariners’ manager of financial and administrative systems. . . .

The experimental simulcasts will be available to anyone who has a computer with sound capability, access to the Internet’s World Wide Web and a subscription to ESPNET’s new premium service, which costs $4.95 a month.

Last year the Mariners became the first baseball club to become part of the Internet, making photos, news releases and information about the team available to fans beyond the Northwest.

The Web is a rapidly growing section of the Internet enlivened by pictures, sound and video.

Technical limitations will allow only several hundred people around the world to access the broadcast simultaneously, said John Sage, vice president of marketing for Starwave.

The broadcasts will be transmitted over the Internet using RealAudio technology from Progressive Networks. Fans who log in will be able to perform other tasks on their computers while they listen to the game in the background, Sage said.

Plans for the introduction of baseball to the Internet came out of an agreement involving KIRO Radio, the Mariner network’s anchor station, Starwave and Progressive Networks.

Several major colleges also are experimenting with the Internet as a way to tap into a geographically dispersed base of fans.

Officials at the University of Oregon in Eugene said they will become the first to report a live college sports event via the Internet Sept. 9 when the Ducks play the University of Illinois in football.

Rob Glaser, a Mariner shareholder and president and CEO of Progressive Networks, predicted an important future for Internet live audio broadcasts. “This is clearly groundbreaking technology that takes us further along the path toward making RealAudio an industry standard,” Glaser said.

The broadcast did happen. The Tampa Tribune (of all newspapers, one from the city that could have become the Mariners’ new home) reported on Monday, September 11, 1995:

On Tuesday, a new era started with the first live broadcast via the Internet worldwide computer network of a Major League Baseball game, the 6-5 Seattle Mariners’ victory over the New York Yankees.

While the computer, telecommunications and cable industries are racing to be the first to bring video into America’s homes, a revolution in cyber- radio is already here.

So far, more than 300,000 people have downloaded the free software necessary to listen to radio over the Internet. With the click of a mouse button, through a computer’s speakers, they can listen to ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings, music, talk shows, or more than 100 other radio or television programs.

But why would anyone want to listen to radio on a computer when there’s a perfectly good radio in the car?

“It’s audio on demand,” said Richard Liebhaber, managing director of the investment research firm, Veronis, Suhler & Associates in New York. “The Internet is becoming the ultimate special interest magazine.”

Cyber- radio could end up being a passing fad or could be a significant new form of communications. While Internet broadcasts are now commercial-free and designed to market regular shows, the broadcasts could ultimately be commercially viable for advertising to millions of people.

In any event, radio via computer is a tangible demonstration of the convergence of communications that is fast-arriving as the lines between computers, television, radio and other media are being blurred. Tomorrow’s radio and television could be your home computer.

Special software made available by Progressive Networks Inc. has been placed on the Internet free for consumers to download. Once they have it in their computers, the program sets itself up, discovers on its own which software you are using to navigate the Internet, and then awaits to be called up anytime it runs into radio programming on the Net.

“Putting Seattle-New York on the Internet is not that big a deal,” said Dennis Duke, director of the Supercomputer Computations Research Institute at Florida State University. “We already have a pretty good [radio] infrastructure for broadcasting games. What is a big deal is that this means a beginning for radio on demand.”

Being able to selectively tune in to what you want to hear when you want to hear it, Liebhaber said, opens a broad range of new opportunities for business, advertising, and world communications.

It means a soldier stationed in Europe may one day catch a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game over the Internet, even if it’s not televised. . . .

Maria Cantwell, marketing vice president for Seattle-based Progressive [the same Cantwell who's become a longtime senator representing Washington], said the Internet radio audience is restricted to roughly 300,000 people who have so far downloaded the free RealAudio software. However, she expects that more people will try it when they hear about it, considering that the software is free and for the time being, so are the virtual radio programs.

Soon, there could be millions of people tuning in, analysts said. That’s because Progressive expects to announce within days an alliance with Netscape Communications Inc., the public corporation that promotes the most popular software for browsing the Internet. It will soon include RealAudio built into the Netscape Navigator software, Cantwell said. . . .

“The buzzword for all of this is convergence,” Duke said. “The direction we are going is audio, video, text, all combined with interactivity between all of them. This is not necessarily bad for radio. In fact it’s good. It’s a wider audience.”

It’s a message that is just now reaching the vast radio industry, which in some cases is scratching its collective head, wondering whether cyber-radio is a competitive challenge or an opportunity. . . .

“While people are waiting for video on demand, there are lots of multimedia experiences that are being developed right now on the existing national infrastructure,” said Cantwell, the Progressive marketing vice president.

With the view of someone who looks at technology in distances of 10 years or more, Duke, at FSU, said he believes audio on demand shows much promise, particularly in the area of programming archives.

“Audio is much less demanding on bandwidth [than video] and there is a very good chance it will be more successful sooner than video on demand,” Duke said.

“You have to think of the big picture of convergence,” Duke said. “We are literally just around the corner from starting pilot projects across the nation offering Internet access over cable TV. That’s going to blow things totally out.”

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Published in: on September 10, 2012 at 7:30 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. So basically, virtually no one under the age of 25 remembers a world before the internet, live-streaming, etc. Now I truly feel like a dinosaur. I participated in my first fantasy baseball league in 1993. It was a pen and paper league, where we used the stats in the back of Baseball Weekly (now, Sports Weekly) to figure out our points for the week. Our commissioner literally mailed our weekly stats to us via USPS on Monday morning, though most of us could figure them out ourselves. To pick up players or make trades, we actually used the telephone (which, for most of us, still had a cord attached to it.)
    Somehow, I still don’t think the experience then was inferior to how fantasy leagues are organized and operated today.
    Interesting stuff,
    Bill

  2. [...] 5 September 1995, ESPN SportsZone streamed a live radio broadcast of a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees to thousands of its subscribers worldwide using cutting-edge technology developed by a [...]


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