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Little Room For Error

By Larry Barrett Print this article Print

The subsidiary responsible for operating the Web sites of 30 baseball teams must get a line on where its fans live before selling them video streams. Or else, it will run afoul of its lucrative TV deals.

Little Room For Error

When a subscriber logs on to purchase a specific game from MLB.com, the GeoPoint software narrows down the computer's location by ZIP code and assigns its confidence rating. Then, MLB.com's software determines whether the ZIP code identified is eligible for the game requested.

Based on these calculations, the subscriber's request is either approved or rejected. If it's approved, the subscriber will receive a virtual token—essentially, a one-time use code—and be allowed to receive the video stream. If the request is rejected, the customer is denied access to the content and referred to the customer service department.

In the first week of the 2004 season, MLB Advanced Media's customer service department was contacted by more than 450 would-be customers denied access to games by the GeoPoint software. About 50 were trying to weasel a live feed of a game they couldn't receive. The others were eligible for the Webcast but for whatever reason—a rare dial-up connection using an obscure ISP, or connecting through a satellite provider with vague routing information—were shut out

"We all knew there would be strange little areas that we couldn't pinpoint," says Quova's Jackson. "Maybe it's a location that's right on the border of a ZIP code that's blacked out, but the actual person is outside of the blackout area."

After talking with the shut-out customers and learning how they were connecting to the Internet and their exact physical location, Quova's network analysts could remap the IP address and add it to the database. When another customer dialed up from a similar IP address, the updated information from those first denied service allowed the software to quickly approve those who followed.

Both Jackson and Choti say MLB games are a particularly nice fit for streaming media because there are so many games—more than 2,300 in the regular season alone—and they take place throughout the day and night. Fans traveling for business or living overseas can keep tabs on their team.

"It's the kind of thing you can have on in the office while you're working or at the airport waiting for a flight," Choti says. "Baseball's the kind of game where you don't have to watch every second of it. You can miss an inning or two and come back and still be able to enjoy it."

And by putting borders on the Internet, Quova's software is attracting interest from a variety of industries that need to identify where people accessing their Web sites really are.

Online gaming sites must know where prospective gamblers are located. It is illegal for casino owners to provide gambling on the Internet in Germany, China and the U.S. Failure to comply, though rarely checked, could potentially result in the owners losing their gaming licenses.

Retailers can customize sales and marketing not only to target customers in a specific location but to keep them out of legal trouble. V&S Vin & Sprit AB, the Swedish distiller of Absolut vodka, uses GeoPoint to make sure its content is only sent to countries that allow liquor advertisements.

For more on Baseball and Technology, check out Sox Win! Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

And instead of sending a generic Honda advertisement over the Internet, MLB.com one day could send a video pop-up to MLB.com subscribers watching games in Atlanta with information about specific Hondas on sale at Atlanta-area dealerships.

"Any time you can eliminate waste in advertising, you've increased the value of those consumer eyeballs," says Steve Vonderhaar, research director at Arlington, Texas-based Interactive Media Strategies. "When you can marry behavior habits of Web advertising with geographic targeting and multimedia communications, you could have what some advertisers would call a home run."

This article was originally published on 2005-03-07
Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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