MLB Available Just About Everywhere, But It's Not Easy

(Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, you’ll recall, I grumbled about watching online baseball games on MLB.tv,  specifically about the irritating repetitious cycle of advertising and promos in between innings.

The same ad. The same four or five promos. The same interstitial of the same baseball highlights. And the irritating matter of those ads often being interrupted abruptly, over and over. It’s irritating and it looks, well, sloppy, kind of uncared for.

I also promised a kinder perspective today.

As two execs at MLB.com have explained, a large part of that lousy commercial break atmosphere is a by-product of being able to stream the games as widely as MLB does. It isn’t quite a victim of its ambition, but as MLB.tv expands, it tends to be taking giant steps sooner than most everybody else.    

Right now, MLB.tv can be streamed on more than 400 types of devices: Blu-ray and gaming consoles, connected TVs, Android and iOS systems, smartphones, iPads, laptops and PCs, Roku and Apple TV, and separate apps with other kinds of info.

That is amazing because it’s live and MLB has done this act since it tried its first games in 2002.

It’s grown rapidly. From 2003 until 2006, MLB.tv  was only available on one kind of device. 

And it wasn’t until 2006 that MLB had the capability of streaming on Apple devices. Imagine that! Three years later, you could watch on an iPhone.

By now, on an average night, MLB.tv is being streamed to between 1.6 to 1.7 million devices. And an average night, like the one that will show up again on Friday when baseball’s season resumes, MLB is doing that streaming for 15 separate ball games from all over the country.

Because of all those different devices and operating systems—and ball games—Matthew Gould, MLB.tv’s  vice president of communication says, ad breaks between innings are wildly in flux. What you see, in a very short window, depends on what devices are being used. MLB has to build in buffers to accommodate all those devices.  

I’m feeling sympathetic.

 “We’re still doing a lof of R&D there and building that infrastructure to deliver dynamic ads into live video,” Gould explained. “You don’t know when the breaks are coming. You can program for on demand movies or a TV show. You know exactly where the ads are going to come. We don't.” 

It’s not always that easy for consumers, either. In fact, as I learned, I have an LG smart TV that, while only a couple years old, may be too old to be a very reliable way to watch the game.

“The performance on old devices is not something we can really control, quite frankly,” David McLary, technology project manager for MLB.tv told me.

But MLB.tv doesn’t really work conventionally with the three-month old Chromebook I have, either. It’s not on MLB’s supported list. But if you go to user boards, as I did, you can find somebody who has discovered a way around that, so now, on that same Chromebook, I get MLB.tv just fine.

“That’s why we have the forums,” Gould says. “People aren’t going to go to the forums to tell us how great things are.”  But the forums take care of the most frequent bugs, he says, though he also adds: “Look, even on laptops there are tens of thousands of iterations of hardware.”

Stuff happens.

But, he says, those user sites are useful ways for customers to learn tricks. MLB.tv also has a pretty active presence on Twitter and other social sites, where, they say, they’re able to answer viewer problems.   

I also can get MLB.tv via my iPad, my laptop and via my Chromecast dongle. And when I acquired my Amazon Fire set-top, all the Amazon advertising said MLB would be coming soon. 

That was in March. It finally happened last week, about halfway through the season. But as they say in baseball, it’s a long season; and for MLB.tv, it’s a pretty daunting one.  I’ll hope for a strong second half.  

It’s great for MLB.tv that streaming is growing rapidly. Then again, I sort of feel their pain.

pj@mediapost.com

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