Why is MLB so far ahead of everyone else online?

Well, that is not really the question. It is more of an assertion: Major League Baseball‘s Advanced Media division is so far ahead of the other major sports it isn’t funny.

I have become, in my 30’s and now early 40’s, very much a baseball guy. Some of that I attribute to MLB’s constant work to make baseball available to me. Now, I’m a Yankee’s fan, and have been since I can remember. I was a Yankees fan for the Reggie Jackson years, the Billy Martin years, the almost-wonderful Mattingly years, then on to the dead zone of the the Danny Tartabull years, then the upswing in the Showalter years and the dynasty of the Jeter/Rivera/Torre years. My Dad was a Yankee’s fan, my wife grew up a Yankee’s fan (Connecticut native), and now my daughters are content to fall asleep watching the Yankees each night.

Watching the Yankees, that is, on our 50inch HDTV, in HD, over the internet, using a media PC.

I live out of market, so after I left home the only way to keep up was the box scores in the paper or when the Yanks came to town. In the late 90s (?) however, I came upon what I think was called MLB Radio, now called MLB Gameday Audio. This was very cool for the time: Real Player streams of game radio broadcasts. It was fraught with dropouts and stuff, but a lot of the time it worked! And it was reasonably priced (twenty bucks? I don’t remember).

At the time I worked nights in an empty office building and listening to games was wonderful. I would call my Dad the next day and we would discuss the game, with him having watched on local cable. Baseball is best shared.

Every year, I signed up like clockwork. When they added video streaming — I jumped on that. Again it was wobbly with technical issues initially, but when it worked it was great. In retrospect the resolution kinda sucked, but it was state of the art for the time and far better than not seeing the game. I had all sorts of problems in Linux, eventually performing the proper incantations (early days remember) to get Windows Media Player to work with CodeWeavers‘s Crossover Plugin.

At that point, it was mostly a Dancing Bear situation: It wasn’t that the bear danced well, it was amazing that it danced at all.

I bet I averaged listening or watching to 100-120 games a year since then.

Fast forward to this season, and my, how things have improved! After a lousy experiment with Silverlight video streaming last year, MLBAM went to a Flash-based streaming experience — and it works a treat. The HD streams are not quite perfect, but they look pretty darn good on my HDTV. My wife routinely forgets it is an internet stream. Plus, the iPhone app is great — I can listen everywhere now.

Cost? Well. The Gameday Audio subscription is the best deal going — $14.95 for an entire season of all home and away broadcasts for every game. Given that baseball is almost better over the radio than on TV, that is an absolute steal. And the iPhone app was $10 I believe. Serious deal.

MLB.tv Premium is $110 for the season, and sometimes the annoying blackout restrictions kill you, but still, for even semi-serious fans, that’s a deal. Remember that is 162 games a year, every team, both home and away video feeds. Contrast that to DirectTV‘s Sunday Ticket satellite package (if you can figure out the pricing — is $300 correct?), which offers less flexibility for more money for fewer games. Good thing folks gamble on the NFL and need that Sunday fix.

There are a number of folks on the MLB forums who complain ad nauseam about problems they have with the MLB video streams; I thin they are a bunch of whiners. Sorry, I do.

MLBAM has constantly pushed the state of the art on this. They are managing 30 separate HD feeds to thousands of customers, which the feeds coming from disparate locations sourced by different broadcast organizations. So far, it seems like they have made a pretty good effort to me. Yeah, things were spotty in the beginning of the season, and sometimes I had to watch the standard definition feed, but true to form they have rapidly improved the service. For example, they moved the iPhone app from audio only, to selected games’ video streamed, to all games as streaming video if you were a MLB.tv subscriber, all in the last 3 months. They offer in game highlights, condensed games for the next day, in-game DVR-like controls, PIP, and a host of other things when streaming to a PC. They very much operating on Internet Time.

It’s a theme for MLBAM; they move fast, often ahead of the times and the technology. In the case of HD mass streaming, they seem to be dealing with under-provisioning by some ISPs. Me, I have great Comcast service, mostly through dumb luck. Since the first month of the season my MLB.tv has been rock-solid.

So where is the NFL on this? They started their own network and are sheltering games on it. They do seem to stream some games — ones that are already on a national cable broadcast, or in market. I think. Literature is a bit murky. Not surprising given the immense money they reap from the Sunday Ticket deal.

NBA? They have a deal with TNT and ESPN, but a plan for general streaming that is, well, weird.

So color me impressed with the guys and gals at MLBAM. MLB.tv has let my kids experience fandom in a classic way: they get annoyed when they have to watch a game on Fox for a very baseball reason.

They like the YES broadcasters better. Ha!

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8 Comments on “Why is MLB so far ahead of everyone else online?”

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  3. Dan Says:

    I agree. I just watched my first HD Cardinals game on MLB.tv and if you can swallow a few hiccups here and there, it does the job very well

    • designbygravity Says:

      It’s an interesting choice MLBAM has made, to push the technology so far so fast. Clearly they decided the downsides of alienating a set of the customers who had bad experiences was far outweighed by the upside of what they thought they could do.

      From my standpoint, I’ll keep renewing for Premium + the iPhone App every year. Which they have to be happy about.

  4. John Dowdell Says:

    Cool, glad it helps. The MLB.com team has done some fantastic work… have you used their Gameday interface, with pitch-recall and all?

    To get an idea of how complex the video back-end work is, try this interview from Feb08… shows the parts that we in the audience mercifully don’t have to think about!


    PS: I’ve got to cut some slack for forum complaints… people do have different connectivity setups, and it’s easy for last-mile delivery to get sluggish. There’s some technology in the works to adjust the resolution on-the-fly to account for such changes, but it wasn’t ready in time for the 2009 season, sorry.

    • designbygravity Says:

      Gameday is pretty cool, but generally I am either near the TV and can watch, or an listening to the radio feed. But for occasional day games when I can’t have headphones on or listen out loud, Gameday has been great.

      I concur that the vast majority of forum posters’ issues are actually ISP last-mile problems. I am *very* lucky in my connectivity (sustained 16Mb down/6Mb up) and I reap the benefits.

      Thank for the link!

      P.S. Lest you think I am a complete fanboy, my next post will pick some nits, constructively I hope.

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