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.