Earlier this year, our family cut the cable to our TV and we’ve never looked back. With one exception: Sports.
I knew that would be a pain this year with the early rounds of the Major League Baseball playoffs now televised on cable stations TBS and TNT. But then, it became a bit more of a pain point when both the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants made the playoffs.
How to watch the games?
I wasn’t very hopeful. But I decided to check about MLB.com to see what options they might offer. I say not hopeful, because their regular season package to stream games is insanely expensive.
So I was pleasantly surprised that they offered a special playoff package for $4.99. I could download the app to watch on my iPad. I could watch on my PC. And I could watch on my Panasonic Viera, with comes with the MLB app built in.
Sounds like a great deal. Except it’s not. It’s terrible.
First, what’s not clear, is that when you watch the games, you don’t get the broadcast feed. If you subscribed to MLB packages in the past, you probably know that. But I didn’t. Instead, what you get is the raw feeds from the various cameras in the stadium.
So, I can watch the pitcher’s cam. But when someone hits the ball, the camera stays on the pitcher. I can switch to a different camera. Or, I can choose the “quad view” which shows four camera views at once. (See the photo above).
The problem is that then your eyes are racing between each cam to find the ball, and figure out what is going on. Then the announcers discuss the play and start talking about the replay, which you can’t see.
As for television, we have a Panasonic Viera. But when I log into the Viera app, it doesn’t let me view the video feed. Just the extras, like the stats and the strike zone graphic.
Fortunately, I have Apple TV, so I can beam the app onto the TV. But watching on a big screen, my kids were even more confused trying to follow the action.
Now, I’m not naive. There are no doubt rights issues at work here. MLB doesn’t want to create a product that’s too good of an alternative to watching on cable. They don’t want to bite the hands that feed them.
But what’s frustrating is that I’ve seen what a great app for a big sports event can look like. Earlier this year, I paid about the same amount to download the NCAA Tournament app that let me watch the broadcast feed of any game live. It was elegantly designed, and very reliable.
By comparison, the MLB app is a whopping disappointment. I’ll likely keep using it. I don’t have a big choice and it’s cheaper than going to a bar for every game. Eventually, the games will move to Fox, which I can get with an antenna.
But the NCAA tourney app was a glimpse of what the future of TV could be. MLB shows a league still trying to hold on a bit too tightly to the past, creating a weak product that amounts to a big strikeout.