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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.

mlbtv1.jpg

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.

The new MLB.TVNow, 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.

Of course, all this could be moot if the cable industry gets away with killing net neutrality (and screwing us all over), but for now, it works, and it gets a nod from me.

10 Responses to “Reviewing the new MLB.TV”

  1. I sprung for the MLB.TV premium package this year at $120, after having the standard package last year and loved it. I can watch the games while on the road on my laptop. I wanted premium this year so I could hook the laptop up to the big screen while at home too. Well, it sucks so far! The site was completely down until 10:10pm on Monday night. What an agonizing wait! I had to resort to ESPN Gamecast, which although anticlimatic, still fulfills my desire for the play-by-play. The MLB.TV 1.2 mega resolution version is a still-frame, sputtering mess. After an hour on hold on the help line they tell me they’re having some unnamed “problems” and hope to have them resolved soon. Well I hope so too. What a disappointing start to a much anticipated baseball watching season. Go Cards, I hope to see you in hi-res soon!

  2. Woah woah woah. Do you have a source for the FOX blackout thing other than the press release? That’s pretty huge news if you do… but otherwise I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. The press releases just don’t usually mention blackout rules and the MLB.tv website still says:

    • 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.

  3. Malicious Sophist says:

    Don’t forget the premium service also gives us MLB.tv Mosaic — the ability to watch as many as 6 games simultaneously (with alerts when your favorite players/ fantasy players come up to bat or pitch). This is my first year of premium service, third year with MLB.tv, and this year’s product has simply blown me away. Up to this point I have not had one problem (*knocks wood*).

    Re: watching 1.2MB service on your big screen. If I watch the full screen feed on my 21-inch monitor it starts to get a little grainy. I don’t think it would look too great on a large screen tv – but hopefully I’m wrong.

  4. Alejandro Leal says:

    Drats! I knew it was too good to be true. I was comfortably watching my White Sox on mlb.tv while the local Fox broadcast had the Braves-Mets going.

    But it’s pretty clear, national black out for Saturday games kicks in on May 17. Arg.

  5. crow nest says:

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t complaining about the elimination of Condensed Games on mlb.com. It seems to me that if more people knew how great that was, and mlb had kept it, mlb would be making even more bucks. Since they’ve eliminated that and any decent extended highlights, their product is actually worse than it was 3 years ago.

  6. In general, I’ve found Silverlight to be a horrendous downgrade from the regular Windows Media player — the feed is grainy and blurry when compared to to regular Windows Media. Plus, the regular Windows Media feed allows you, whether with a Firefox plugin or by copying/pasting the link, to watch games in the standalone player, which you can resize however you like — Silverlight has only 3 possible pre-set sizes, including the aforementioned not-exactly-full-screen. Finally, Media Player is much, much easier to navigate precisely via rewind and fast-forward. I’ve uninstalled Silverlight so I can use Media Player (because once you install Silverlight MLBTV doesn’t give you a choice), and judging by comments I’ve seen on message boards, I’m not alone in that decision. It’s very possible that Silverlight will be better than Media Player in the long run, but it’s pretty clear that the technology is not ready for prime time, and for 90 bucks, MLB shouldn’t be rolling it out (and billing it as an upgrade) until it is.

    In general, I’m a huge fan of MLBTV, and MLB is leaps and bounds ahead of the other sports leagues in terms of what it offers via streaming media, but it seems as if they’ve consistently given short shrift to quality and customer service. Hopefully that will change.

  7. Count me out this year if condensed games don’t come back. That was, for me and many who live overseas, the best feature of mlb.tv. Isn’t mlb trying to increase its appeal to the international market?

  8. Alejandro Leal says:

    You know what else? I just noticed that you can’t click on the inning of an archived game to watch just the action that took place in said inning. Last year, once a game had been made available as an archived game, you used to be able to click on an inning from the line score to watch the action.

  9. I live in Canada — but I’m just as big a baseball fan as you guys! My favorite team is the Jays — so I sprang for the PREMIUM MLB-TV package. Now, I find out that ALL LIVE BLUE JAY GAMES (WHETHER THEY’RE AT HOME OR AWAY) ARE BLACKED OUT THROUGHOUT CANADA ON MLB-TV. How would you like to have a favorite sports team and be Canadian?

  10. Jon Beckerman says:

    MLB.TV has created more aggrevation in my life than the cable company, and that’s saying something. i’ve been a faithful mlb audio subscriber for years, coupling their reasonable $15 service w/ Comcasts $150 Extra Innings package. After getting frusturated listening to Kansas City and Boston announcers give the play by play during my beloved Yankees games, I decided to go w/ MLB.TV for the 2009 season due soley to the fact that they broadcast the home & away feeds. HUGE MISTAKE. After spending 5 hours on the phone trying to understand how to upgrade from mlb.audio to mlb.tv… then spending dozens of hours on the phone trying to get my mlb.audio money back after getting charged the full $110 for mlb.tv (I know its only $15, but its the principle), then spending $40 on cables to hook my pc up to my tv, and then the $100 for a wireless keyboard & mouse set to be able to reload my web browser from my couch as opposed to shoving my head under the tv where my laptop is docked, I’m freakin pissed! The video quality is terrible, the feed locks up constantly, the feed is choppy, there is no ‘cookie’ to remember your login, much less your password, so every time your system freezes up, you need to initiate the login process all over again, including typing in your most likely long email address.

    I hate it. I wish I did what I did last year, and paid the $160 for the comcast extra innings (which I can watch from any tv in the house), and the $15 for the mlb.audio, and mute the tv for the away team feeds.

    This is a horrible product, and I urge everyone to stay away from it.

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