Earlier this afternoon, our very own Jose Rivera--champion gif-erator and skilled new media artist extraordinaire--received an email informing him that his Twitter account would be suspended due to a DMCA complaint from MLB Advanced Media. It was far from the first time something like this has happened to someone involved in the propagation of MLB-owned baseball content on the internets, and it will be far from the last.
Thankfully, after a few lines were drawn in the sand, his account was reinstated within minutes, and he will continue tweeting away at @notjoserivera--not only an ironic choice for a Twitter handle but also perhaps the most creative way to avoid possible complicity after getting emails from Twitter HQ (What, me? No, don't you see, I'm not Jose Rivera!). That logic probably doesn't hold up, but just stay with me here.
OK, everyone. That was a interesting 30 minutes. So, yes, my account was suspended because of MLB GIFs, but I'm back now.— Jose Rivera (@notjoserivera) July 6, 2015
With that being said, I think it's pretty obvious that I won't be posting any more MLB GIFs.— Jose Rivera (@notjoserivera) July 6, 2015
The cause in question for this suspension was the spreading of visual content legally owned by Major League Baseball, that last part a legitimate and unarguable fact which you are reminded of every time your team's play-by-play announcer rattles off that legal qualifier about "express written permission" in the middle of every evening's broadcast. I want to be clear here that I'm not arguing against that: every single one of the major four sports leagues in this country has similar legal ownership over not only their product, but also every direct audio-visual representation of it. Yes, we can complicate that with gazillion-dollar television contracts and broadcasting rules, but literally nobody would argue that they should just give all this away for free. They aren't run as non-profit organizations, you know.
Now if you're on Twitter and follow any of the major Seattle sports franchises, you have probably run in to Jose once or twice. He unquestionably supports the brand of every single sport he follows to each of his 3,500-plus followers. However, MLB Advanced Media is rightfully afraid of someone broadcasting their product on a platform not run through their monetized channels.
See, when someone, say, fellow SB Nation blogger Grant Brisbee, posts something as innocuous as a Vine of a silly happening during a baseball game--I have no idea what it was as you can see below--the post is targeted for removal because By Jove! One of these Internet Types is stealing our banwebs! Delete the pictures and return the stolen files, although it was probably something that never would have made it onto any of MLB's social media accounts which are notoriously ill-equipped for sharing content on the new media platform which functions on instantaneous connectivity upon which they are found.
Complaints against MLB Advanced Media are nothing new, and truth to tell--are either misplaced or just as productive as a puff of hot air. We could spend time firing off adjectives like "draconian" and "obsolete," or even note that the person setting the agenda of the league at the time had never sent an email in his life, but I think it would be more productive to focus instead on the essence of the matter. That is, that while Major League Baseball is absolutely within their right to police digital content on social media, it exacerbates the core problem the league faces as its primary audience ages into an undesirable demographic: that is, an utter and complete failure to market their product to a youthful audience seemingly more interested in the NBA and the NFL.
The always excellent Wendy Thurm summed up the issue quite nicely in a piece for The New Yorker earlier in the year, where she described Major League Baseball's push to market a new crop of stars to a league not yet feeling financial pressure but nonetheless searching for the next Jeter ready to energize wallets and eyes.
The problem is who is—or, more to the point, who isn’t—watching. Baseball fans are, on average, older than the fans of other major sports. Baseball’s share of television viewers between the ages of six and seventeen has fallen to less than five per cent in recent postseasons—it was nearly double that a decade ago. It’s true that kids are spending more time on mobile devices these days, and watching less television over all; but when they do tune in, it tends not to be to baseball.
She continues, quoting current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on the league's plan to market rising stars through commercials and platform deals, apparently the golden calf by which the cult of this mysterious Youth will be appeased:
So M.L.B. shot footage during spring training for its ad campaign, which will air during national broadcasts on Fox and ESPN. "We think it’s the biggest platform for us, it’s where we have the biggest reach, and we’re trying to take advantage of that," Manfred told the Post.
So to get this straight, Major League Baseball, which has commissioned a task force to find out how to better involve minority youth with the game, has decided the best way to go about solving this problem is by broadcasting shiny new commercials on a television network which costs families on average over $64 dollars per month to access. And this is the best way to get children excited about home runs and stolen bases?
While I must admit that Jose's thankfully-reinstated Twitter account isn't The Answer for the anxiety running through the walls of both MLB and MLB Advanced Media over the future viability of their product, he--and Grant, and anyone else sharing GIFs of their favorite baseball team--are giving MLB's product free advertising to anyone with an internet connection who may stumble across their very popular accounts.
That content, legally, should be in the hands of MLB Advanced Media. But they are not meeting the demand their targeted demographic requires. Instead, they put their hopes into the hands of television contracts with a Comcast or a Time Warner Cable, delivered through a box in the wall, imagining social media to be little more than ancillary entertainment beneath analog delivery mechanisms. And granted that gets them a lot of money. But I mean, it's not like 75% of all US teenagers aged between 12-17 own a cell phone or anything, devices which are increasingly enmeshed with social media access as technology gets cheaper and more widespread every year.
Now what we should not do is argue for the right to set up our own little broadcasting channels in order to subvert the arm of MLB Advanced Media, who are, admittedly, trying to figure out how best to navigate this ever-changing new media network. What we should do, though, is read about how the league is trying desperately to hold onto an outdated model of ubiquitous market control in an era where television networks--television networks!--have learned to let an audience with money in its pockets use and share their product amongst themselves for free advertising.
We should wonder why MLB refuses to make 90% of their highlight videos embeddable until a day after the game airs, when studies have regularly shown that emotion is one of the most powerful tools by which to make online content go viral. Emotion, which by the way easily wanes after Nelson Cruz' hilarious awkward slide home gathers almost 24 hours between its original posting and its availability to be embedded through MLB's official channels. They are literally leaving money on the table.
And mostly, we should look at how many videos pop up after typing "Lebron James" into YouTube, how many of them are operated and monetized by the NBA, and then we should note how that has utterly destroyed the NBA's ability to monetize the images and sounds of its product in the current new media climate which seems so baffling to execs scrambling to propose the next Cut 4 account and Fan Cave.
Now these are a lot of words, and while I'm usually one for brevity (yes, arguable) I know when I've overstayed my welcome. As a result, and if I've strayed too far here, let me try and make up some ground with an easy TL;DR to make sure I stay on topic.
So to you, MLB Advanced Media:
- We're sorry about the GIFs
- Seriously though, we would love to be able to embed your actual videos so as to give you the eyeballs which are rightfully yours.
- You're leaving money on the table.
- If you don't want to adapt on your own, somebody else is going to make you do it.
- Ok love you bye.