Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Streaming Desktop Major League Baseball: Not Ready Yet

As this year’s baseball season started up, I decided to test Major League Baseball’s new option for watching my favorite teams: streaming video of their broadcasts. A subscription costs only $14.95/month and I can watch the games of as many teams as I want. At first, this was fun, but as time passed the limitations of the subscription have led me to consider cancelling it. The problems are technological and political.

The political problem is that Major League Baseball (MLB) has exclusive national TV contracts with various networks. “Exclusive” is the operative word. For example, due to these contracts there are no streaming video of baseball games on Saturday. MLB also has regional contracts, in which a network might broadcast a game I want to watch. Even if the network doesn’t broadcast it in my home market, the mere fact that they might have precludes me from seeing it on streaming video. So, in essence, I have a 6-day/week subscription with numerous holes in the remaining schedule.

The technology problem is the video itself. It’s delivered in a 2″x3″ screen in the browser. You can make the image larger, but you lose picture quality as you expand it. The video also has a problem that it frequently stutters and then blanks out all together. In the latter case, the screen just shows the MLB logo. You have to restart the transmission to get the picture back. This happens more in the Firefox browser than IE, but it definitely happens frequently (about once per inning) in IE as well.

The bottom line is that between the technology glitches and the politics, streaming MLB video is a frustrating experience.

[Update (April 2006): I subscribed again this year and had to cancel. The service has not improved in the intervening time.]

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