MLB's Web Video Strikes Out on Opening Day
Major League Baseball's opening day turned into a frustrating affair for many subscribers to its fee-based MLB.TV live game video-streaming service.
Subscribers encountered disruptive technical problems on Monday that included slow response times at the MLB.com site and problems with an upgraded media player.
For starters, the new version of MLB.com's Mosaic media player remained unavailable until around 4 p.m. Eastern Time, although six games had started between 1:05 p.m. and 3:05 p.m.
"With this being MLB.TV's most anticipated Opening Day ever, we appreciate your frustration," reads a posting Monday at the official MLB.TV Mosaic Blog. "Ultimately we ran into conflicts that were buoyed by an entire suite of new products rolling out simultaneously ... [We] will be monitoring the support forums here around the clock while we ensure that everything is stable."
But everything wasn't stable. Problems with Mosaic's operation have continued. In a message posted mid-afternoon Tuesday on the official Mosaic technical support forum, an MLB.com representative said the problems were expected to be solved in time for Tuesday night's games. There were no daytime games on Tuesday.
"Yes, the Mosaic is not working currently. You will receive two possible situations: 1. Loading forever. 2. Unable to verify your location message. We will have the issues resolved by game time," wrote an MLB.com staffer identified only as Shane.
Robert Bowman, president and CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, MLB's interactive media and Internet company, echoed that expectation in a phone interview. "I believe that tonight there will be no issues," he said. The first of tonight's eight games is scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.
Frustration was high among premium-level MLB.TV subscribers, who pay either $19.95 per month or $119.95 per year. They were promised an improved "TV-quality" picture this year, thanks to enhancements to Mosaic and to the service in general.
Nick Mavro, a premium subscriber since 2006, is getting tired of MLB.TV opening-day glitches, and the current problems had him questioning whether he should have signed up for this season. "When they cannot get it right on clearly their most 'glorious' day, it is very frustrating. In hindsight, I would opt against signing up again," Mavro, a Toronto businessman, said via e-mail.
After finally installing Mosaic Monday afternoon, the system didn't allow Mavro to sign on, instead giving him a message that it couldn't validate his location. It was a problem that persisted for him Tuesday afternoon and is consistent with the latest status update from MLB.com's Shane in the support forum.
MLB.TV subscribers' locations must be validated because the online broadcasts are subject to blackouts, to prevent people from watching the game online if a local TV station is carrying the game.
Mavro called customer support and after a 20-minute wait, a representative took his number and promised to call him back, but never did. "This is not a free service. People pay top dollar to sign up for this. Don't leave them in the dark," Mavro said. "It is the smugness that annoys me. They know that you cannot get this anywhere else, and therefore believe they have the right to do as they wish without repercussion."
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Premium-level subscribers can view games in the new high quality without Mosaic, by using the regular media player that subscribers in the lower tier use. However, Mosaic provides a fuller and richer experience overall. Moreover, on Monday, the MLB.com site in general was having performance problems, so that wasn't necessarily a workaround to the Mosaic problems.
Jason Diefenthaler, a premium-level subscriber from Naples, Florida, had a similarly frustrating customer service experience on Monday. "I sat on hold for 30 minutes last night and got disconnected. I called back and waited for an hour and got disconnected again," he wrote via e-mail.
As happened to Mavro, Diefenthaler received the error message stating that his location could not be identified from his credit card. After entering the card number about 10 times, the system finally accepted it, but then gave him another error message: that he was logged on using multiple computers. He got this error the rest of the evening, until at close to midnight it went away, but the Mosaic screen got stuck loading. "I checked again today at lunch time and that was still the case. No baseball for me," he said.
Bowman said he's aware that some subscribers are frustrated, but he said his team does its best to have the system ready under difficult circumstances."It's a complicated process. We can't get into the ballparks and test things out until we actually have games in the ballparks, so we have a one-day spring training" for testing everything end to end, he said.
This is why MLB.TV has run into technical problems in past years on opening day, he said. He's confident that most subscribers are aware of the difficult task at hand at the start of the season for MLB.TV and that they'll be understanding.
"We run the most successful live programming site in the country. Our subscribers are well aware of our success and of the complicated and complex nature of providing three different streaming speeds of live events every day," he said. "Most of our subscribers ... are well aware that we have one day to get all the bugs worked out when the clubs get back to the ballpark."
In addition to the usual last-minute checks and tests, this year MLB.TV rolled out several enhancements to the service, including a better Mosaic based on Microsoft's Silverlight technology, enhanced premium-level streaming of 1.2 megabits per second with a 16x9 widescreen format, and mobile video alerts.
But premium subscribers say they just want the service to work as advertised, and that an organization with MLB's vast resources shouldn't be making excuses.
"With the kind of money I am paying for this service, I expect it to be ready to go on opening day. I can understand having some bugs but you should at least have a working copy ready for your paying customers or you should refund some of what they paid," Tom Prendergast, an e-commerce product manager in Canton, Massachusetts, said via e-mail.
Jordan Shank, an auditor and premium-level subscriber for about two years, believes the potential for MLB.TV is tremendous. "The MLB.tv package seems like an absolute beast of a service," he said via e-mail. "So in terms of what the product could be, this has to be one of the most disappointing purchases I've ever made."
Shank advises MLB.com to listen to its customers. "Don't act like some Draconian corporation -- even though you are -- ignoring the pleas of a few dedicated users," he wrote. "Work with the fans and you can create the ultimate product. I'd probably pay $250 a year if the thing worked correctly."