As I mentioned in another post, MLB.TV is a stellar model for video content on connected Internet devices. Their business model is aggressive, but the product is excellent.
Having used it for a good part of the 2010 season now, here are some thoughts on the various hardware platforms where it is available.
Note I have only the basic MLB.TV, not the high end version, so I do not have all the DVR functionality or choice of feeds.
Overall the product is very well conceived. It has options to mask all scores so you can safely enter the app to pick up a game from the beginning without seeing the score or outcome. You can start at any inning or go to the live point.
There are no ads, when the ad break comes you get a silent pleasant blue card while you wait. According to an MLB presentation I saw last year at Adobe Max, they are restricted from rebroadcasting local ads into other markets (something not true on the similar DirecTV product or on MLB’s audio only product). They also said they have not worked out all the details to consider inserting their own ads. So for now at least, you get a nice ad-free experience in exchange for the $100-120 you paid up front. (Hear that, Hulu?)
Rock solid. Does just what you want it to. Only one glitch I found while resizing windows the video did not resize when the video did, so about half the image was cut off. I had to kill the window and reopen it to restore. No big deal.
The iPod Touch
Video performance is an issue for me. It crashes and stutters frequently. Image quality is poor, possibly due to the limted processing power. It could be related to the bandwidth available, however in the same location I didn’t have as much trouble with…
Better. The video performance is better than the Touch. It still crashes occasionally and for the most part I find myself going back to audio only. Also the app itself isn’t as good as the Touch app, it feels cluttered to me, not as intuitive, and it lacks a standings section for some reason.
I am still skeptical of the iPad as a video device. I rarely take it out of the house where I have a much better video device known as A Television Set (with a number of connected devices attached). When I do rarely take it to the office, I prefer to listen to the radio versions of ball games so I can keep my eyes on my work (Hear that, Boss?). I know some people are bullish on video on the iPad, and I don’t deny it can work for some, it just so far has not worked for me, and least for long form video.
The Roku Box
Simple. If the Roku has a fault, it’s that it’s too simple, but it passes the Mom Test. Just about anyone can use this thing, it just works.
I recently moved my Roku into my home office where I have a small TV next to my computer. Since my main TV has an Xbox and a PS/3, the Roku has become a bit redundant, so it’s now demoted to auxillary room status.
At one point this last weekend I had the White Sox on mute on the small TV via Roku, and the iPad running the audio of the Tigers game while I worked at my PC. This was better than juggling windows on the PC itself.
Slick. This is my favorite place to use MLB.TV. The interface is responsive, the streams start fast and video quality adjustments happen seamlessly (without a pause like the Roku).
The only negatives are slight and can be blamed on the PS/3: it was not easy to find the app in the first place to install it, and I’d prefer to use the center “select” button on my PS/3 media remote rather than the “X” button, but I’m guessing that’s a design requirement to be consistent with other apps on that device.
If I could only choose one device however, ironically it would be the one that generally performs the worst for video, the iPod Touch, because it’s always with me. I mostly use it for audio only, because most of my eastern teams’ games are on while I’m still at work here on the west coast.
For home viewing of video, the one I’d keep would be the PS/3.
Four. Four times is the answer.
Let me back up. MLB.TV is a great product. Major League Baseball is by far ahead of the other sports leagues in terms of non-traditional distribution, and their business model is also setting the new standard, which is: you pay for stuff.
How I came to pay MLB four times for the same thing serves as a fine example of how this new world works.
It all started in 1976 when my dad took me to see Mark Fidrych pitch for the Detroit Tigers. Ok, that’s going back a little too far.
I grew up in and around Detroit and Chicago and have a split loyalty between the Tigers and the White Sox. (screw the Cubs) Now living in Los Angeles, I signed up for the MLB audio only service “Gameday” a couple years ago so I could stream radio broadcasts of my teams.
Gameday was $15 for the season and AUTO-RENEWED every year.
That was fine for 2008 and 2009, but as spring of 2010 began and I was surrounding myself with media devices like the iPod Touch, PS/3, Roku, and iPad, pure professional curiousity dictated I experience the audio service, now renamed “At Bat”, on all my various devices and probably upgrade to the video service (MLB.TV) that added live streaming video.
My 2010 At Bat had already auto-renwed, so there’s the first $15.
When I went to download the At Bat iPod Touch app I found the free version did not work with the audio package I already paid for. To get At Bat audio on the iPod Touch, I had to buy the premium app for $15. So that’s two times I’ve paid for the audio.
“They are two separate products,” someone from MLB told me.
And of course, if you try going to the web version on your iPhone browser, it redirects you to a page advertising the app. Nice try buddy. (and the web version requires Flash, which wouldn’t have worked on an Apple device anyway… are you getting the picture?)
[more below the graphic]
This directly reverses the models that have been more common to this point of digital rights and subscriptions existing “in the cloud” allowing a single paid product to be enjoyed on any device. This is how Netflix and Amazon do it. You subcribe or purchase once and any device you log in to gives you access to the rights that exist everywhere.
But this is the new new media of 2010.
Then I find the same deal is in place for the iPad version of the At Bat app. Unlike many other apps where buying one gets it on both the Pod and the Pad, not so. A third payment of $15 gets me the iPad version.
Finally, I decide I want to “upgrade” my account to include the video. Thankfully, this upgrade does apply to all devices, no need to purchase three separate video subscriptions.
However, there is no “upgrade” path from my initial web only audio ”At Bat” to the full “MLB.TV” which includes video AND AUDIO. I was only able to purchase it at the full price of $100.
Had I not had my original Gameday account on auto-rewew, I would have gained web access to the audio feeds by virutue of my MLB.TV purchase. However I was unable to apply that $15 against the new $100 purchase (I called MLB twice to try, and the very nice people on the phone told me versions of “hmmm, good question… maybe… let me ask… I’ll put in a ticket… It should offer you that option when you purchase… you can cancel your audio and REQUEST a refund, but I can’t guarantee you’ll get it…”)
None of that came to pass, so finally I broke down. My time was worth more than the $15 I stood to recover and I figured I’d get to be indignant about it in a future blog post, so I went ahead and bought the $100 package, my fourth purchase of the right to stream audio from MLB this season.
Annoying as it is, these guys know what they’re doing.
Despite all that, I still ended up missing the controversial Galarraga Perfect Game because I had to go to the dentist.
(Note: I work for the Walt Disney Company, but I do not work for ABC or Hulu. My comments are mine, not my company’s, and I am not citing inside information in this post.)
If you don’t follow these things, Google TV is a recently announced effort from Google, Sony and others to enter the already active and increasingly chaotic world of Internet connected TV.
Yahoo, Roku, Vudu, Apple, Netflix, and others are already doing it. Google is new to the party, but a big name attracting attention. (and a new Apple TV is now rumored)
The basic idea of the connected TV is to take the kind of video watching you do on your computer and move it to the biggest and best picture, sound and seating you have in the house. The original video device. The almighty television.
You could get all the breadth, randomness, and consumer friendly economics of Internet video without the neck and back strain of “leaning forward” over a keyboard and mouse.
But does this matter? Will it change the world? The hype from Google and the others would say yes.
This is all fine for the oddball viral video and niche specialty content that doesn’t already exist on traditional television or DVD, but what would really change the industry would be getting high value network or studio products like you find on Hulu. You could cancel your cable bill and watch far fewer advertisements. Sounds great right? But…
There is no free lunch. TV is expensive to make. Especially if it’s good TV. A show like Lost with visual effects, big sets, and well paid union writers, directors, and actors needs a budget. A big budget.
Where does that money come from? There’s a complicated answer to this and a simple answer. The simple answer is the money comes from you.
Just like when taxes are raised on corporations, ultimately they’ll raise prices on products and get that money from consumers. The money is in the people, and if the people stop paying, there is no other source.
The complicated answer is that it comes from you in many ways. Part of your cable bill makes its way back to the networks. The time you take watching advertising (unless you’re skipping, more on that later) is value extracted from you and sent back to the network. And the season box sets you buy or rent on DVD count as well.
As more and more people figure out how to get their shows without paying these costs, the available pool of money to make the shows will shrink. The networks must react to this, it simply doesn’t work to just shrug it off and continue on like it isn’t happening.
One reaction to this may be to lower the cost of production. This can mean moving away from expensive shows like Kings, Law and Order, or CSI and towards lower cost product like The Apprentice or Jersey Shore. Another way to lower costs is to pay less for talent by using unknowns or bargaining down the unions.
Another reaction is to simply block content from running on these devices. This is what Hulu did with Boxee, the PS/3, and others and the assumption is they will do the same with Google TV, if they can. (If they can’t, I’d expect a lawsuit, or simply for shows to be pulled from Hulu)
Those are negative reactions. They reduce the value of what is circulating in the system. What I’d like to see is to keep expanding access, but make a few critical adjustments to ensure people get paid. You may not like it, but compare it to the above alternatives…
A place to start is to charge for content. Either as a subscription like Hulu-plus, or pay per view, which you are already seeing on the web. There era of “the internet is free” may be over, and this is what will come to your TV set.
If you still want it “free”, then another option is to raise the value of advertising.
The least creative way to do this is to make ads unskippable. This is unfortunate if you’ve grown accustomed to skipping, but it’s inevitable. You’ve seen this on the web. Get ready for it on your TV.
A better reaction is to make ads better. Make them something you actually want to watch, will watch more than once, and will send to your friends. You probably do this now already, just not from your TV. Not yet.
However the most effective solution may be to make ads more relevant to you. Enter Google TV.
The reason you skip ads is because they don’t mean anything to you. But what if every ad you saw were precisely targeted to you and your family? So much so it may even creep you out a little. (that will be a fine line to navigate)
In the future, advertising may address you by name, reference where you work, where you drove today, what products are in low supply in your fridge, what you were discussing by email or on Facebook that day, and so on.
Going further, interactive commercials could directly drive commerce, allowing you to explore deeper into the product, have more information emailed to you, or make an impulse purchase on the spot.
Relevant and responsive advertising is something Google knows a bit about, and they want to build a platform to bring this expertise from the web to your living room, but they won’t be able to do it alone. They need the networks to play along, which means they need to show them the money. Your money.
What do you think? What are you willing to trade (time, personal information, cash) in exchange for high quality entertainment?
How much do you want another way to get movies and TV shows to your TV?