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Disney and MLB need a new CEO for their red-hot video business

Daniel Roberts
Editor-at-Large

Major League Baseball and Disney are looking for a new CEO for the video-streaming company BAM Tech. It’s arguably one of the hottest jobs in all of digital media right now.

Bloomberg reports that Bob Bowman, the architect and current president of MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM, commonly referred to as just “Bam”), will “step back” from his additional role as CEO of BAM Tech.

According to Bloomberg, MLBAM has retained the high-profile executive search firm Egon Zehnder to scout candidates, but Disney is also actively involved in the interviewing.

That may be a surprise, but makes perfect sense—BAM Tech is extremely important to Disney and to its near-future plans for ESPN.

Bob Bowman of MLBAM (Reuters)

BAM Tech began inside MLBAM as the video arm powering live broadcasts of pro baseball games. It spun off from MLBAM this summer when Disney invested $1 billion for a 33% ownership stake. While most sports fans likely don’t know BAM Tech by name, it quietly powers online streaming for many high-profile video providers, including ESPN, HBO Now, WWE, PGA Tour, and Glenn Beck’s digital network The Blaze. It’s been valued at $3.5 billion.

In some ways, BAM Tech’s biggest competitor is Amazon, which has an enormous digital video business, though MLB is also a client of Amazon Web Services, which powers baseball’s Statcast feature.

MLB’s 30 clubs still own a 58% lion’s share of BAM Tech, Disney has 33%, and the NHL has 9%. Disney’s agreement allows it the option to buy another third in four years, which would give it the controlling interest—expect it to do so.

On Disney’s fourth-quarter earnings call in November, CEO Bob Iger raved that BAM Tech, “gives us a really interesting opportunity to create a new product, it gives us an interesting opportunity to create product that is more user-friendly and, therefore, is likely to gain more consumption.” Disney plans an over-the-top streaming product for ESPN, built and powered by BAM Tech.

While some outlets have framed the Bowman story as Bowman “stepping down,” insiders tell Yahoo Finance that MLBAM and Bowman had always planned to find a new, outside CEO to steer BAM Tech, which he has led since it officially spun off in August. Bowman did not wish to run both MLBAM (which he has run since 2000 and where he’ll remain) and BAM Tech, and as BAM Tech keeps growing, that would not be feasible anyway. If anything, Bowman’s departure is the final step, in a management sense, toward cutting BAM Tech off from MLBAM, though MLBAM is still majority owner.

Either way, the sports media world, and broader digital video world, will be keeping an eye on this position to see who fills Bowman’s large shoes. The person who gets the job will have to balance input and influence from Disney with the needs and priorities of professional baseball.

One could even argue that the job is basically (or will eventually be) a Disney position.

UPDATE, Feb. 21, 2017: MLBAM has announced that the new CEO of BAM Tech will be Michael Paull, formerly VP of digital video at Amazon. Considering Paull’s experience in the same business, and that he comes from Amazon, the hire makes perfect sense.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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