March 10, 2011 1:25 am

Apple TV to offer sports leagues

Apple TV customers will be able to watch Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association games after the tech group signed deals with the sports leagues, in a sign that cable companies will face more online competition.

The deal could signal a shift in thinking for sports leagues about how they make their content available online. The move comes after Apple on Wednesday released a software update for its television service.

Until now, sports leagues have been judicious about making live content available online, so far preferring to control the digital rights to their live games themselves.

Cable companies have benefited from this strategy, with live sports being among the biggest draws to traditional TV. Last year, eight of the 10 top prime time broadcasts were sports events in the US, according to research group Nielsen.

The NBA’s League Pass allows customers to watch all the league’s games online and on mobile devices for $179 a season.

The NBA will offer two packages to Apple TV users. For $65 per season, customers can choose up to seven teams to watch. And for $100 per season, fans will have access to all games through Apple TV. The MLB.TV package costs $100 per season, or $120 for an enhanced version.

Users must purchase the sports packages through the leagues, not Apple. By this model, Apple will not take a 30 per cent cut of revenues, as it is doing with other content sold on devices such as the iPad through the iTunes store.

Originally launched in 2007, Apple TV failed to gain traction until a new version was unveiled in September last year. In December, Apple said it had sold 1m of the devices, adding to speculation that US consumers were beginning to shift away from cable subscriptions and consume more traditional entertainment content online.

But cable companies have not reported dramatic losses in subscribers, stemming fears that so-called cord-cutting will be an imminent problem for the television industry.

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