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MLB Media Boss: Livestreaming Won't Replace TV Anytime Soon (Video)

Live sports is stuck on TV -- for now.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Streaming live sports is probably the future. But it’s the distant future, and it’s not as easy as you might think.

That’s because reaching an audience similar in size to the one that watches a game on TV is a technical beast that no one has gotten close to, explained Major League Baseball’s media boss Bob Bowman, who runs the league’s digital unit MLB Advanced Media.

Bowman already streams a lot more than just baseball. The company has done NHL games, PGA tour events and even the Super Bowl. MLB also powers HBO’s standalone streaming service HBO Now. The largest audience its ever been able to handle at one time: 2 million concurrent viewers, Bowman said.

“To sustain two million, that’s two major [content delivery networks] really chugging,” he said. “You don’t have backup. That’s the other thing, too. If something goes wrong and you’re using all these CDNs, who do you go to?” he said at the Code/Media conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Calif.

When Yahoo streamed a regular-season NFL game between two lousy teams playing in London, the stream peaked at 2.3 million viewers. Considering this year’s Super Bowl drew 112 million viewers, the streaming capabilities are still a ways off.

That means that while tech companies like Yahoo or Google or Apple may someday want to own the rights to professional sports content, the technology needs to improve significantly before TV goes by the wayside.

“Eventually we’ll get there when we have the hardware to be able to distribute 10 million concurrent streams in high quality fractured all over these devices,” said Bowman. “But you can’t sustain it [right now].”

Watch ESPN president John Skipper explain the digital future of sports at Code/Media 2016

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