As some of you may know, I tend to cover most of the technological news that come out of the MLB offices, and some of you may remember our coverage of the failed DirecTV-Extra Innings exclusive deal.
Many saw the deal as a greedy money-grab since it would shut-out a good chunk of baseball fans that had paid a hefty price to subscribe to the Extra Innings package via their Cable and Dish services. Back then, the argument put forth by MLB Advance Media was in the form of MLB.TV, an online-relative to the Extra Innings package, which was supposed to serve as a substitute.
What MLB didn’t realize was that, though the service worked, at $89, it was an expensive indulgence that delivered sub par quality that still managed to shun fans that didn’t want to watch baseball on their laptops, or couldn’t due to the need for broadband internet access.
Enter 2008. With more people going online at faster speeds, TV on the web has exploded, and with a few years under its belt, MLB’s online experience is finally coming around to becoming the alternative Bud Selig and his new media henchmen wanted to ram down our throats last year. And they’ve got the numbers to prove it, 1.7 million live streams on Opening Day, to be exact.
The biggest difference this year is the software the system uses to stream the games. Microsoft’s Silverlight is a newcomer to the web, but it proves as a credible competitor to Adobe’s Flash system. The user interface behaves much like Apple’s newest incarnation of OS X or Windows Vista in the sense that there are fancy screens that shrink in size as you navigate from one panel to the next, without having to refresh the page or interrupt the broadcast. And it works well on both Macs and PCs.
The transition from broadcast to commercials is still choppy (the service blocks out ads by placing a generic graphic) and during one game, they forgot to flip the switch as the graphic was stuck for a good 15-20 minutes, or about one and a half innings.
Another significant difference is the fact that you can now watch FOX Saturday baseball games that are not scheduled for your area. As some of you know, FOX has the right to broadcast the “Game of the week” except that FOX sliced the broadcast by region, showing “games” of the week instead.
I’m not an expert on TV deals, but I’m guessing something in the language of the contract prevented MLB.TV from broadcasting any FOX Saturday games, forcing me to watch the Braves or Marlins (National League, and I live in Atlanta) when I wanted to watch White Sox – Cubs.
Now, however, it seems the language changed in favor of allowing out-of-market FOX “Game of the Week” games on MLB.TV (the language on the press release simply reads, “All 2,430 out-of-market games in the regular season will be available live on both MLB.TV and MLB.TV Premium.”) And what’s more, because of the source of the TV streams, we don’t get to listen to or watch the broadcast signal coming from the studios. Yes, that’s right, no Jeanne Zealsko!
Edit: As Nick points out in the comments, this is not entirely true. Saturday games will be available on mlb.tv up until May 17th, which is when FOX’s exclusivity clause kicks in, and thus, the games are blacked out.
From mlb.tv’s homepage: • National Live Blackout (Regular Season): Due to Major League Baseball national exclusivities, each Saturday until 7:00 PM EST (beginning May 17, 2008 and continuing for remaining Saturdays during the regular season) and each Sunday night (for games that begin after 5:00 PM EST), all scheduled webcasts of games played within such time period will be blacked out. –
And what’s so premium about this already posh luxury? Well, like last year, there are two tiers of service, regular and premium. For $89.95 a year you get access to a 400k stream, which is typical good quality web video. But this year, if you pony up $119,95, you get a choice of 800k streams, or 1.2 Mb “NextDef,” “TV quality” streams (either way, you get access to MLB Game Day audio for all games).
Don’t get too excited, though, even though the stream is bigger, and the quality is greater, it isn’t really the same as watching the game on a TV.