Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Success, according to MLB Advanced Media

A little update for y'all, after yesterday's catastrophe of an opening night. Mark Newman's article is now updated a little, under the title: "MLB.TV, season off to flying starts".


Now, maybe I'm judging harshly. So, to be fair, here is a random selection from the dozens of comments on that article:

"I am very disgusted with what I am getting from this today. If Opening Day
is an indication of what this year is going to be like, we are screwed. MLB
should b much better at this."

"my reception kept freezing the pictures at crucial times during the
mets reds game. very diappointed. same thing happening during the yankee oriole
game on now!! what's the problem??"

"I don't think MLB is paying any attention to the problems. On the
"help" blog, the responses they give all sound like canned answers that are very
basic and do not address the real issues people are having. The problem is NOT
in our sets, it's on their end whether they want to admit it or not."

"Maybe some of these deep pocketed executives can come and tell my 12
year old son why he can't watch his favorite team. WHAT A SCAM!!"

"12:05 and I'm still getting errors. . . . clearly they are having
serious technical difficulties. You know what would make it less annoying?
Freaking admit it. Put a message up acknowledging the problems and apologizing.
Instead I look to see what the heck is happening and I find this article on how
awesome they say they are. It's an insult to those of us who have paid a bunch
of money to not be able to watch opening day."

"I've been an MLB.tv subscriber since they first launched the service
years ago. Today was one of the very few times I have been unable to watch a
game -- the Texas / Cleveland feed was down almost the entire game."

Ok, there are a few (a very few) positive comments. But this article is just the tip of the iceberg. There are comments galore on the MLB.tv blog, and the support forums are almost overflowing with complaints and problems. With the usual reply being along the lines of, "its your hardware". Um, no it isn't. Its your problem.

Its your problem, and it needs sorting. And it needs apologising for. It doesn't need a bragging article, front and centre on the MLB.com homepage, slapping yourself on the back for your service. That is arrogant beyond belief, and an insult to every single customer who hasn't received the service that they paid a lot of money for you.

Monday, 6 April 2009

An MLB.tv joke

From past/present MLBloggers' erstwhile friend Mark Newman, in his annual "news" article on MLB.com selling MLB.tv:

Opening Day is a time for the players to step up and perform for real, and
the same is expected of the best technology in sports today. MLB.TV Premium has
gone through its own Spring Training, being carefully fine-tuned with the
assistance of the many fans who beta-tested it beginning with the World Baseball
Classic and on through Grapefruit and Cactus League exhibitions. Major League
Baseball Advanced Media developed this amazing technology with the fans and for
the fans, allowing them to follow the live action in a fashion previously

MLB.TV Premium is available for $109.99 for the entire year, a $10 drop
from 2008 despite multiple upgrades in features, quality and performance.
Highlights include dazzling HD picture quality (where HD is available), adaptive
bit-rate determination to ensure clarity along with manual override capability;
home and away broadcasts allowing you to choose which team's broadcast you
watch; a Live Radio Option that allow you to choose between TV or radio booth
feeds; a live game DVR and jump-to-inning navigation; picture-in-picture, which
will be huge when you need to follow other games that impact your team's pennant
race; a built-in live scoreboard of the day's games; game summaries and box
score widgets; full-screen and multi-view switching; a user preference setting
that can show/hide score spoilers; archived games and more.


Last year, with the standard Media Player, I could comfortably stream the highest quality video with virtually no buffering issues or freezing. The picture quality could only be described as excellent.


Judge for yourselves.

Not only is that terrible quality - I mean it is back to the 400k days from 3 or 4 years ago - but its not even streaming smoothly. It just freezes constantly. Right now I am listening to the voiceover from some advert while looking at a freeze of Jeremy Guthrie.

Some two or three weeks ago (shockingly my last post!) I pondered on the potential problems of MLB.tv's much heralded new player. Judging from the support blog and support forums reactions, my worst fears have been realised on a rather large scale.

And the support being offered? A joke. "Try rebooting your modem." "What graphics card do you have?" "Try reinstalling NextDef." Ha. If only. You can reinstall NextDef to your heart's content, and you still won't be able to access the Hi Def feed. Not that it would stream if you could.

I don't, by any means, claim to be a computer expert, but I know enough. I know that this problem is not at my end - however much the support team wish to make us believe that it is so.

This is a spectacular failure on MLB Advanced Media's part. Trying to launch what is a potentially excellent player with massively limited testing, and with no option of using the tried and tested old player as a backup for when the inevitable happens. Instead, I cannot watch baseball at the moment. I cannot get the product that I paid for. And I am not the only one.
MLB.tv is the only way that I can watch baseball. For that opportunity, I am thankful. But I paid a lot of money. And I am not receiving the product as advertised. Hell, right now I am not receiving any product at all.

That is totally unacceptable.

And while me ranting may not achieve anything - it won't miraculously fix the problem, and I highly doubt that it will get me any form of compensation, it will make me feel better. And to that end, I am going to go against my normal tendencies, and spread this blog post as widely as I possibly can.

Sort it out MLBAM. Sort out MLB.tv. Do it now. And apologise. Publicly and profusely. It is the very least you can do.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

March means MLB.tv

Pretty much every year since I've been blogging I've posted something around this time of year about MLB.tv. Usually, it has to be said, a complaint of some kind. You see, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with my main source of baseball action.

I'm sure that most people who have any kind of interaction with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) will understand what I mean. And while I am of course grateful to be able to watch hundreds of baseball games from thousands of miles away, this years post is, to some extent at least, another complaint.

I do feel that I should make clear though, that I love MLB.tv. I love the service it provides. I love being able to watch 162 Rays games. I love being able to watch the playoffs, spring training, the WBC and the all-star game. I love having baseball on demand whenever I feel like watching it. Last year, I upgraded from standard to premium, and it was worth every single penny. Or indeed cent. Improved video quality, and the much-needed ability to choose either the home or away TV feed simply made things even better.

The problem is, that all that brilliance and accessibility makes the small problems that do exist even more glaring. Take ad breaks. When MLB.tv first started (or at least when I first started using it) the feed simply played all the adverts, as shown on the local TV station. Fine, no problem with that whatsoever. But then MLBAM decided to cut away from the feed during ad breaks. Sometimes to show their own ads for MLB.com, and associated sponsors, and sometimes just to show a placeholder MLB.tv screen. Fine, that's ok too - I don't need to see ads for random car dealerships in Pinellas County. It is unlikely that I will be looking to purchase a used Chevy from South Florida anytime soon. But, to cut away from and back to the feed needs somebody to be concentrating on the game the whole time. Which, when there are 15 games (and 30 feeds) on offer, simply doesn't happen. I have lost count of the number of times when the feed doesn't cut back in to hear the start of the commentators conversations. Worse, I have lost count of the number of times where the feed doesn't cut back in time to see the first few pitches of an inning. I can even remember a couple of times when whole at-bats (and on one occasion an entire half inning) weren't transmitted to MLB.tv subscribers. That is quite simply unacceptable.

Then there are picture sizing issues. That was my theme last year. A move to an updated version of media player meant different zooming options were available - and that all broadcasts were presented in widescreen. A move that resulted in 90% of the games I watched last year not taking up anywhere near the whole of my computer monitor when I put them into fullscreen mode.

So, this year's complaint. The new player. First off, can I say for the record that from what I've seen so far it is going to be fantastic. Going to be.

Right now there are problems galore. Ok, so its only in Beta, but there is a huge amount of work to be done if it is to be fully up to speed for opening day. IF the picture quality truly gives stable, HD-level output, it will be brilliant. But right now the quality setting jumps all over the place for no apparent reason. IF the DVR functionality works properly, it will be truly awesome for anyone who actually has to do other things while the game is on. But right now, it isn't exactly ready. IF the multi-game and picture-in-picture options work, then it'll be great fun for keeping track on what's going on elsewhere. But right now, the viewing experience isn't even first rate with one solitary game available.

Now, there's still a couple of weeks until Opening Day, so I can only hope that these problems will be sorted. But here's the thing that has annoyed me, and it strikes me as typical of MLBAM's attitude to its users. This page advertises the subscription. I cannot see any mention that the player is still only in Beta mode. It looks to me as though it is up and running and ready to go.

And, hold on a minute, why isn't it? I realise that it isn't possible to fully test its capabilities during the offseason - but surely, if MLBAM were planning to herald its features as a major part of their subscription drive, then they ought least to have been able to ensure that it could successfully broadcast a single feed at a sustained quality level? Its that kind of attitude that annoys me - the assumption that customers will be happy to be used as testers. I mean, I'd be renewing my subscription whatever, but what of the people who looked at that advert and thought, "ooh, hi-def and DVR on my computer? I'll have some of that!"? They'll shell out their money, and then find they've got to test out an unready product - at least for spring training, and potentially going into the regular season as well. Not exactly responsible business practice.

Anyhow, semi-coherent rant over. As I said, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to watch baseball over the 'net. I just find the customer relations and cavalier attitude of MLBAM incredibly frustrating. Especially since they don't need to be. They have a fantastic product to sell. Be honest, be open, be truthful. Develop what they can, when they can. Test it, test it again, release it. The business will take care of itself - and you'll get easy, good press into the bargain. Not random postings across the internet complaining about your customer service. Maybe it's just me, but I think I'm talking sense.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Spring watch - 28/2-2/3

As it turns out, I got home in plenty of time to watch the Rays-Phillies matchup on Saturday evening. And it turned out to be a bit of a slugfest at a breezy Bright House Field in Clearwater. Mitch Talbot - one of the outsiders for the rotation's fifth spot - was starting for the Rays, and suffered a rough first inning. He gave up five runs and three homeruns before getting out of it. Still, he came back and pitched a scoreless second and third, so it wasn't a total disaster for him.

Next up in the battle for rotation duties was Jason Hammel, starting against the Jays on Sunday. By all accounts he put himself to the front of the line with four scoreless innings (three hits allowed). Carlos Hernandez followed, but was hampered by some shaky defense - it looks like the Rays have been comitting more than their fair share of errors so far this spring. Not that I'm overly worried. Not yet, anyway.

Positive signs are coming from the few regulars who have been playing so far - CC belted two triples in Sunday's game, while Evan Longoria hit 3 doubles in 2 games over the weekend.

Yesterday, Wade Davis went to the hill for the second time this spring. He's the longest shot of all to make the rotation, but he had another fine outing anyway - 3 2/3 innings, no runs, just one hit allowed. The Rays won that one over the Cards, to move their spring record to 2-4, if that means anything at this point.

Story so far on the pitching - definitely looking good. The big four (Kaz, Shields, Garza and Sonnanstine) won't start pitching until the weekend, but the competition behind them is looking fierce. Right now, Jason Hammel is looking the favourite to get the nod, although it has been solid outings all round. I reckon we could well see Hammel take the fifth spot, with Jeff Niemann in the 'pen to start the year. Then we'll have Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and David Price starting the year at AAA - I'd advise hitters looking to get their swing honed to avoid playing against Durham for the first month or so of the season!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Spring watch - 26/2

I rushed home from work last night to catch the first televised Rays game of the spring - against the Yankees in Tampa. Missed the top of the first (which is fairly usual for weekday afternoon games), but caught the rest of what turned out to be the Rays' second straight loss to start the spring.

Best performance for the Rays by a distance was from Wade Davis, who was making the start. He mowed through two perfect innings against a strong Yankees team (Damon, Jeter, Teixeira, A-Rod, etc), picking up three strikeouts along the way. What with the plethora of choices that we have for the fifth spot in the rotation, its highly unlikely that Davis is going to be starting the season anywhere other than AAA. Still, its an encouraging start for him, and a great reminder to everyone that the pitching talent in the Rays' farm system isn't all about David Price.

Following Davis on the hill was Chad Orvella - a very welcome site following his struggles with injuries. He gave up a homer to Jorge Posada with his first pitch, but retired the next three batters in order. If Orvella can get fully healthy then its possible that he'll have an outside shot at making the 'pen. I was a big fan of his when he first broke into the majors, so it'll be interesting to see how what kind of shape he's in now.

At the plate there wasn't an awful lot going on for the Rays. They picked up their first run of the spring courtesy of an RBI-single from Jon Weber, but otherwise it was pretty quiet. The highlight play on defense was a terrific running catch by our late-inning centrefielder (who I'm reliably informed by the St Pete Times was Ray Sadler).

Still, despite the loss, it was good to see the Rays in action again (even if it meant watch the YES network's coverage...). Next live game is Saturday afternoon against the Phillies. I'll be at a Six Nations Rugby game, so not sure if I'll be able to see any live, or if I'll be watching on Sunday morning. Mitch Talbot will be starting that one for the Rays I think - another of the contenders for the rotation (Jeff Niemann is starting today). What with the good performances so far from Carlos Hernandez, Jason Hammel and now Davis, it's looking like it could be an interesting spring.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Spring back to (blogging) life

Hmm. So, I was going to write something trying to justify not putting up a single post for over two months. I even started typing it. But let's face it. There is no possible justification for taking such a holiday right after your team wins a ridiculously improbable American League championship.

But hey-ho.

The dark months of winter have passed (well, February in Scotland is still firmly winter, but you know what I mean...), the American football season is over, and the (proper) football season in England is reaching its climax.

And yes, baseball is back.

In an odd way, I'm not quite excited yet as I normally am by the time Spring Training kicks into gear. I have a feeling its partly due to the fact that last year I was still watching baseball deep into October - a full month later than I've normally closed the book on the season. Then of course, there is the nagging fear - if that's the right word - of expectations. For possibly the first time ever as a Rays fan, I actually have some. I'm not really sure what to do with that. Frankly, while I know that I have some real expectations for the team this year, I'm not entirely sure what they are. A repeat AL title? Another win in the East? Just getting to the playoffs again? Being happy with challenging the hyper-spending Yankees and Red Sox? I don't know yet what I'd be happy with.

Anyway, as ever in baseball its been all-change over the winter in St Pete. For a start, the Rays aren't in St Pete at the moment - they're at their new spring home in Charlotte. Then there are the player comings and goings. In: Pat Burrell, Matt Joyce, Gabe Kapler, Brian Shouse, Joe Nelson. Out: Edwin Jackson, Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, Trever Miller, Jonny Gomes (sad face :-( ). Plus a few others in both columns. At some point I'll probably give my thoughts on the new faces, but here is a rather important one for starters - I really don't know that I'm comfortable having two outfielders called Gabe.

And since the last time I posted, Dewayne Staats has a new partner for the TV broadcasts. Not exactly a major news story in the grand scheme of things, but for someone who is limited to watching games on TV, it is important. I've already posted on the hard job that replacing Joe Magrane will be, and the man taking on the challenge is Kevin Kennedy. I've only read good things about him so far, so fingers crossed.

I haven't seen yet when the first Rays spring training game will be shown on MLB.tv - will have to check on that. Actually, just typing this has made me a bit more excited about seeing them in action again.

Excellent. Rays baseball 2009 is go.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Jackson for Joyce

The Rays made their first major move of the offseason yesterday, bringing in outfielder Matt Joyce from the Tigers in exchange for Edwin Jackson.

I'm not totally up on Joyce - I imagine that I saw him play last season, but I can't really remember. From the numbers he looks like he had a pretty decent season, and the Rays are obviously keen on his power potential and defense in right. The impression I get is that while he'll compete for the starting job in '09, he may well be one for the future. I guess my one real surprise is that we've added another left-handed bat - we really could do with someone to hit from the other side!

Obviously losing Jackson is a bit of a shame. He had his best year ever this season, and finally looked as though he was working through his inconsistancy issues. I think that Detroit have picked up a good player there. Still, with the pitching depth that the Rays have, any trade was always likely to involve either him or Andy Sonnanstine. And while Jackson is probably the more talented, I think I'd rather lose him that Sonny - as I've said many times this year, Sonny just has a great knack for winning.

Jackson's departure also dramatically increases the likelihood that David Price will start the year in the Rays' rotation. Its not quite a done deal - Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot and Jason Hammel will have a shot as well - but I don't think it would be much of a surprise to see the big lefty win out.