Watch Baseball While Eating In-Flight Peanuts

Posted by Anthony Mowl in ALL, INTERNET, MOBILE, TELEVISION, Uncategorized on 08-31-11    No Comments

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Baseball fans have less excuses to miss or reschedule flights now that some airlines have committed to showing all 2,400 Major League Baseball games live and in-flight. Row 44 is a developer of flying wi-fi hotspots on Southwest Airlines and other major airlines in Europe. While Row 44′s partnership with the MLB AdvancedMedia appears to be exclusive, it’s unclear if Southwest has an exclusive hold on Row 44 in the U.S. as well.

Since it seems as if Row 44 inked an exclusive agreement with baseball (a la DirectTV and the NFL), hardcore baseball fans might start scheduling all their spring through fall flights on Southwest. But is this really something to be excited about or simply a marketing gimmick? Fans who really can’t make it through a few hours on a plane without their baseball are probably already subscribing to MLB’s online package, MLB.TV, which they can access on any flight that has wi-fi. It’s likely that Row 44′s baseball games won’t be free, making this “exclusive deal” simply a good press release.

Beyond that, anyone who has used wi-fi aboard a flight knows that service is typically slow, and streaming video is rarely very effective. But then again, baseball isn’t as fast-paced as a basketball or football game, so streaming baseball just might work out.

The Sports Tech Nihilist’s Yearly Sunday Ticket Rant

Posted by Seth in INTERNET, TELEVISION on 08-11-11    No Comments

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So, football is back. Did you hear? The NFL preseason gets under way this week — four weeks worth of “games” played by a bunch of guys who will get cut and end up in the Arena League in the not-too-distant future.

And this is the time of year that DirecTV ramps up its efforts to sign folks up for NFL Sunday Ticket — the biggest ripoff in out-of-market sports packages. It costs you well over $300 for 17 Sunday afternoons of football, which is easily $100 more than any of the other out-of-market packages, even though they all provide a ton more programming. DirecTV has been running commercials saying that NFL Sunday Ticket is now included in all packages. What they mean, of course, is that it’s included for the first year when you sign up for new service. After that you have to pay for it — which is sort of the way it’s always been.

Clearly, Sunday Ticket needs to be cheaper, and I’ve long thought the NFL needed to end its exclusive deal to distribute the package through DirecTV. Seems to me they’d sell an awful lot more subscriptions if were available through other providers. I finally gave up after nine years and multiple price increases with Sunday Ticket. The Red Zone Channel will do just fine for me.

The NFL is also pushing its Audio Pass package, where you can get the radio broadcasts of all the games for $29.99. Strangely, this package is available via the PC, but not on any mobile devices. That seems really ass-backward, but considering we’re talking about the No Fun League here, that hardly comes as a surprise. And there also is an online alternative to the overpriced Sunday Ticket. The NFL offers Game Rewind, which allows you to view games online, but not live. Everything is archived after the games are over and you can have DVR controls as you view them. That package will run you $39.99.

We all know the NFL is stodgy and crusty, but they really should get with the program when it comes to out-of-market access. The NHL, NBA and MLB all do a much better job of providing access to their product. The NFL. meanwhile, which plays far fewer games than the other leagues, seems determined to milk that limited supply of content for all it’s worth.

Maybe the reason football has become America’s pastime is that the league rations our access and makes us pine for it. So when they ask if we’re “ready for some football,” we feel compelled to scream, “hell yeah!”


ESPN 3D Takes Hit From AT&T

Posted by Seth in TELEVISION on 08-03-11    No Comments

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I don’t have much use for 3D TV, and apparently I’m not alone.

AT&T announced this week that it is dropping ESPN 3D from the channel lineup on its U-verse television service. People are slow to buy into 3D TV, and there are a couple of basic reasons for that.

The 3D-enabled TV sets are expensive at a time when you can get a really nice regular old 2D set for a dirt-cheap price. ESPN 3D notwithstanding, there isn’t that much 3D programming available. And then there’s the matter of those goofy glasses you have to wear in order to — you know — actually see anything in 3D.

All of this stuff is on the tip of everyone’s tongue whenever talk turns to the slow adoption of 3D TV. And it all ignores one key point.

Even with an expensive, excellent 3D set, and even if you don’t care about the goofy glasses, 3D programming looks like crap. I’m on record with my opinion on this. OK, fine, the 3D effect is a little bit cool, but nowhere near cool enough for me to want to watch a whole game that way. Is it because the 3D image is so foreign to me I just can’t get used to it? Maybe. But I really think the image quality on 3D programming is so inferior to an HD picture that it’s going to take many years and many advances in the technology for it to catch on.

HD has revolutionized sports programming. You can’t ever go back to watching in standard def once you see sports in HD, although Verizon Fios TV has done a nice job of forcing me to do just that, with the lack of HD games available on their out-of-market sports packages. Maybe one day we’ll all feel that same sense of loyalty to 3D, but frankly I don’t see it. That’s how good HD is. What did we ever do without it?

Big Ten To Stream Games To Your iOS Device

Posted by Anthony Mowl in INTERNET, MOBILE, TELEVISION on 08-01-11    No Comments

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I’m a die-hard Indianapolis Colts fan, and I refuse to miss even a single game they play. So when I got some great free tickets to go to a Washington Redskins game at the same time the Colts were playing, I had serious doubts about whether I wanted to go to the game. But these were club seats, and my girlfriend was going to kill me if I turned them down. Thankfully, we had DirectTV’s NFL Ticket, and NFL Ticket subscribers can stream games to their iPhone or iPad. Problem solved. While everyone was watching Mike Shanahan single-handedly implode the Redskins on the field, I was hunched over my iPhone watching Peyton Manning hook up with Dallas Clark over and over again while drinking $6 beers.

Watching games on a 2 1/2 inch screen like the iPhone isn’t ideal, but there are times when it’s necessary. The NCAA basketball tournament streams every game live over the Internet and on mobile apps, and there are millions of fans eternally thankful for the option. I can only imagine how many people sat on their office toilet away from their bosses, or were dragged on road trips to visit their in-laws, or were stuck on a train during their commute home, but were still able to watch the games. There is a need to stream games live over mobile devices, even if it isn’t going to be a primary source of watching games.

The Big Ten Network has jumped onboard, and last week announced it will be launching BTN2Go, offering more than 40 football games and more than 100 basketball games in addition to other programming. All content will be available to subscribers online and streamed over iPhone and the iPad. Yet another reason to be happy I opted for the iPhone over an Android device. But more than that, it seems as if there is a trend developing where we’re going to get more games streamed to our mobile devices.

In addition to DirectTV, the NCAA, the PGA Tour and now the Big Ten are streaming events live. While some people might be calling foul, and saying that screens are too small for this content, I say otherwise. It’s about having the option. I hope every game in every sport is streamed live so the poor folks stuck in airports waiting for connecting flights or even laid up in a hospital would still be able to keep up with their favorite teams. That’s the beauty of technology, and the opportunities it’s creating for us crazed sports fans.

Now let’s hope the capacity of wireless data networks can keep up with all these games. Especially when the Colts are on.

TV In The Palm Of Your Hand, But Why?

Posted by Silissa Kenney in MOBILE, TELEVISION on 07-19-11    No Comments

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Breaking news! With the new $10 Orb Live app, you can stream TV, movies, and sports on your smartphone from sites like Hulu, Netflix, ESPN, and more. The app is available for the iPhone immediately, and will be ready for Android devices in mid-August.

OK, please tell me you are not jumping up and down with excitement right now. I mean, how much TV do you really need to watch?

The answer, apparently, is a lot. At least according to Orb, which cites a Nielsen study that mobile video viewing has increased 41 percent since last year.

“No matter where they are,” said Joe Costello, CEO of Orb Networks, ”people can use their mobile phone to get the same great content that is available on their home PC for watching at the beach, on the soccer field, at the airport or on a commuter train.”

On the soccer field?!? Why would anyone be watching TV on their smartphone at a soccer game?

If you are still jumping up and down, undeterred, with anticipation, you’ll be interested to know about one cool feature with this app. You can type in the show you want to watch and Orb Live will find it, whether it’s on Hulu, Netflix, ABC, or wherever. I like that. Still, I can’t see this app as being anywhere near necessary. Plus, the battery drain will prevent you from doing the things you’re supposed to use your phone for. Like work, or, I don’t know, actually talking to people.

More Streaming Sports News: NHL GameCenter Making Strides — Sort Of

Posted by Seth in GAMING, INTERNET, TELEVISION on 07-18-11    No Comments

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Following up on my fanboy fawning over MLB.TV, there was news that came out a few days ago about the NHL’s online streaming package.

NHL GameCenter Live, which streams more than 1,000 games per season, saw a 31 percent increase in subscribers and an 83 percent increase in renewals during the 2010-11 season. GameCenter Live is available for Apple, Android, Nokia and BlackBerry devices, as well as the PlayStation 3, Roku and Boxee. It provides games in HD. There’s also a big archive of games from the last couple of seasons and classic games of the past, which is something MLB.TV should add.

However, it seems GameCenter Live should add one key element that the MLB.TV package has in abundance: Quality.

The NHL package debuted on the PS3 last year, and predictably there were some bumps in the road, as evidenced by this thread on the PlayStation Community message boards. It seems there were a host of problems with streaming live games via the PS3, and according to folks who posted on the thread, no refunds were available because the NHL said the games were still viewable on the computer. That is a complete crock  for anyone who planned to watch on their TV, and the NHL should be embarrassed to offer that as a response. Even if the problem was on Sony’s end, they’re in this together.

Another issue here is the price point. It cost $159 for the season last year, but actually you can tack on another $10 if you want to watch on the PS3, because that’s what Sony charges you to download the app you need to view live games. It’s free for PlayStation Plus users. Again, the NHL should take a cue from MLB, which offers a free download of the software the PS3 needs to view baseball games. Even at $159, that’s almost as much as it costs to buy NHL Center Ice on DirecTV or cable/satellite providers. MLB.TV is only $120, and the baseball season has more games.

GameCenter Live has gotten some rave reviews for its quality and the depth of its content. But it sounds like it’s a little too expensive, and concerns about the quality are making me hesitate whether to go with it this fall. The question is whether a hit-and-miss experience with games in HD on the PS3 will outweigh the nightmare of watching hockey in standard-def on Verizon Fios.

Who Needs TV When There’s MLB.TV?

Posted by Seth in INTERNET, TELEVISION on 07-14-11    1 Comment

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I’ve always been a little bit skeptical of watching sports on anything over than good old fashioned cable or satellite TV. Within the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of sports broadcasts on the web, but it never seemed like a particularly good option to me.

Until now.

I have seen the future of live sports broadcasts, and it’s called MLB.TV.

MLB Advanced Media is the clear leader in online sports packages. This we know. But you don’t get a full appreciation for it until you check out the MLB.TV package, which I’ve been doing since last weekend. I’ve been an MLB Extra Innings subscriber for several years, and I was disappointed earlier this year when I switched from DirecTV to Verizon Fios TV and discovered that Extra Innings on Fios carries very few games in HD and simply isn’t as good as it is on DirecTV. Well, I’ve made a determination: Starting next spring, it’s MLB.TV for me. Goodbye Extra Innings. Goodbye Extra Innings hefty $180 price tag — which is particularly galling, considering that Verizon charges the same for it as DirecTV does even though it’s a vastly inferior product on Fios.

But I digress. Let’s talk about MLB.TV, which is $119.99 for the full season and is $79 if you sign up now for the rest of the season. Here’s what there is to love:

Portability: First of all, like any good piece of entertainment content, they’ve made the package portable to a whole bunch of different devices. I’m running it to my TV via my PlayStation 3, but you can also watch on a PC, an iPad, Roku, Boxee, or through an app built into some newer Samsung and LG televisions.

Picture: Unlike the woefully fuzzy standard-def picture I get from Extra Innings on Fios TV, I’m getting an HD picture from MLB.TV. Occasionally there are some buffering issues, and my TV is a few years old and not a 1080p display, so I get some artifacts on the screen when there’s a lot of fast motion. I think there might be some compression issues as well that impact the look of the picture. But none of this makes the picture undesirable. Even at its worst, it’s better than the standard-def picture on Fios.

Functionality: This is where MLB.TV blows away Extra Innings like a Roy Halladay fastball. You’ve got full DVR capability and the ability to jump to earlier innings of any game whenever you feel like it. So let’s say you sat down to catch the Yankees-Blue Jays game tonight (July 14), and you were a little late, and were shocked to find out that Toronto scored eight runs in the first inning. How did that happen? Well, the short answer is that Bartolo Colon’s magic is gone. But you can punch up the bottom of the first inning at the touch of a button and watch it for yourself. There’s more. You can get home and road team feeds of each game, with your choice of the TV announcers or the radio crew. So let’s say you want to listen to Jon Miller call the Giants game instead of the TV team of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow (who are very good, by the way). Again, touch of a button, and you get Miller’s dulcet tones. You can even choose the ballpark setting, which gives you the noise of the park — the murmur of the crowd, the crack of the bat, the umpire’s strike calls — with no announcer at all.

If you’re watching on a PC, there are a few other options that aren’t available if you stream to your TV. You can view up to four games at once on your PC screen. Streaming to the TV you’re limited to one at a time. That’s something they should fix, especially since a big TV screen is far more conducive to a multi-game view than a small PC screen. There’s also a fantasy player tracker available on the PC, although this isn’t that big a deal, since avid fantasy players probably have the live scoring page of their fantasy league site up and running on another browser tab.

There are a couple of minor quibbles. First, MLB.TV cuts the signal when a game goes to a commercial, and you get a message on the screen saying there’s a commercial break in progress. I sort of like seeing local TV commercials from across the country when I watch on Extra Innings. But I can live without them. Also, MLB.TV blacks out live broadcasts of teams in your home market. For me, living in Maryland, that means no Orioles or Nationals games, but of course they’re available as part of my Fios TV package. Your home team’s games are viewable as part of the season archive, starting 90 minutes after the games end.  But there are some parts of the country that are considered the home market of several teams, so that could be a drawback for some fans.

Simply put, MLB Advanced Media has created a streaming package that is more worthwhile than watching on TV. It’s the future of sports broadcasting. And it’s here now.


Adding A Third Dimension In Sports

Posted by Anthony Mowl in TELEVISION on 07-08-11    No Comments

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The BBC had its first 3D broadcast last weekend, adding a new dimension in its airing of Wimbledon’s men’s and women’s semi-finals. It was a hefty endeavor, with two huge broadcast trucks, dedicated staff and specialty cameras all brought in for a 10-day test run leading up to the actual broadcast.

While tennis is probably one of the most 3D-worthy sports (think about a tennis ball flying toward your face at 120 mph), you have to ask yourself if the effort was worth it. The broadcast was shown live in just 200 theaters worldwide, and less than 200,000 televisions in the UK support 3D. While sales of 3D televisions are picking up, movie theaters around the world are literally making customers sick of 3D.

3D started off with a bang when 80 percent of people who watched Avatar in theaters saw the movie in 3D. But newer movies are averaging only 35-45 percent 3D viewership. Moviegoers are literally getting headaches and feeling sick from the 3D effect, balking over the $4 to $6 premium to watch a film in 3D, and in some cases they’re complaining about the diminished quality of the movie itself. It turns out that some theaters, in an effort to save money, are dimming the bulbs on their projectors so the picture does not come out as bright or as sharp. While director James Cameron believes 3D is here to stay, moviegoers are saying otherwise with their wallets and opting to see movies in 2D instead.

This makes us wonder whether Wimbledon’s 3D broadcasts were simply an experiment or an assertion of what is to come in future sports broadcasts. If performance in movie theaters is any indication of the public’s interest, is it worth pursuing a third dimension in sports broadcasts? 3D is expensive, technically challenging, and not everybody likes it (including The Sports Tech Nihilist). Sure 3D might be a neat gimmick, but is it commercially viable?

Petitioning Fox: Give Vin Scully The World Series Mic

Posted by Seth in TELEVISION on 06-24-11    No Comments

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There’s a digital-age movement afoot to give an old-school media icon one last hurrah.

A young man named Matt Falkenbury, co-founder of a New York Mets blog called The Daily Stache, has started an online petition trying to convince the Fox TV network to allow Los Angeles Dodgers announcer extraordinaire Vin Scully to call the World Series this October. More than 6,000 people have signed it so far.

Including me.

For all of the technological advances that have changed the way we consume sports content, there is still no substitute for a play-by-play announcer who acts as your companion and narrates the action. Someone who doesn’t tell you what to think, but observes everything along with you. Someone who speaks without snark or schtick. Few of those announcers exist anymore, but that’s who Vin Scully is, and it would be a wonderful tribute to him and a wonderful treat for fans if he could do it on a national stage one more time.

Scully is in his 62nd year of doing Dodgers’ games, and he’s planning to retire after the season. For generations of baseball fans, his lilting voice, his gift for storytelling and his skill for — of all things — knowing when not to speak have defined baseball broadcasting. To wit, just listen to the last half-inning of his legendary radio call of Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game.

Scully has called the World Series on national TV several times. In the 1960s and 1970s, when NBC had the national TV rights, the network used to let the home team announcers work portions the games. So when the Dodgers made the World Series in 1965, 1966 and 1974, Scully got national exposure. In the 1980s, NBC brought him on to do its national broadcasts, and he worked three more World Series. He called the dramatic 1986 victory by the Mets over the Boston Red Sox, which was so good, it’s even entertaining when it’s set to a re-enactment on the old Nintendo game, RBI Baseball. He was there to call Kirk Gibson’s iconic home run that ended Game 1 of the 1988 Series.

And if you’ll forgive me a fanboy moment, in the finest Scully tradition, I’ll relate my favorite Scully call. It came in the 1984 Series on another Gibson home run. Playing for Detroit at the time, Gibson came to the plate with runners on second and third in the eighth inning of Game 5 to face San Diego’s Hall of Fame closer, Rich Gossage. Padres’ manager Dick Williams came out to confer with Gossage about what to do. With first base open, an intentional walk seemed like a no-brainer. All the while, Scully related a story about how Gossage had struck out Gibson on three pitches in Gibson’s very first major league at-bat in 1979.

Gossage talked Williams into letting him pitch to Gibson instead of giving him a free pass. And Gibson blasted Gossage’s second pitch into the upper deck in right field in Tigers Stadium for a three-run homer that gave Detroit an 8-4 lead, effectively ending the clinching game of the Series. From the crack of the bat, the ball was so obviously hit out of the park that Scully said simply, “And there it goes!”

And then, for about the next 3 minutes, he said nothing else.

NBC’s viewers saw Gibson rounding the bases, heard the delirious crowd in Detroit and then watched as Gibson returned to the dugout, high-fiving his way down the line. Lance Parrish, the Tigers’ next batter, struck out. Through Parrish’s entire at-bat, Scully said not a word. Viewers saw Gossage’s pitches to Parrish, and then were taken back to Gibson in the dugout, who eventually worked his way to where  the Tigers’ ebullient manager Sparky Anderson was standing. And you saw Anderson stick a finger in Gibson’s chest and could read his lips plain as day, as he told Gibson, “They weren’t gonna throw to you … they didn’t wanna throw to you.”

When Parrish struck out, taking the edge off the crowd noise, Scully returned to the mic, saying, “I have a feeling that Rich Gossage talked Dick Williams into letting him pitch to Gibson. And that is a decision that will haunt the Padres all winter long.”

Apart from Scully’s important place in baseball history, it helps the cause that many fans have grown weary of Fox’s team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, who have called 13 World Series since 1996. Buck, quite frankly, sounds bored when he’s doing baseball. He’s much better on Fox’s football package.

We don’t know if Fox will see fit to put Scully the national stage once again. But it would be a classy move. Here’s hoping it happens.

The Sky Is Still Falling! DirecTV Poised To Offer Discount On Sunday Ticket

Posted by Seth in TELEVISION on 06-06-11    No Comments

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The breathless panic about whether there’s going to be an NFL season continues: DirecTV is reassuring subscribers of its ridiculously overpriced NFL Sunday Ticket that they won’t have to pay for games that don’t get played.

We suppose that will take Sunday Ticket from ridiculously overpriced down to just plain unnecessarily overpriced.

As we’ve detailed here before, Sunday Ticket is worst deal among the out-of-market sports packages — $334.95 for 17 Sundays worth of games. Compare that to, say, MLB Extra Innings, which is just under $200 for six months worth of games, seven days per week.

Full disclosure: I was a DirecTV/Sunday Ticket subscriber for nine years, but finally pulled the plug on it. All you really need is the Red Zone Channel, which I have now through Verizon Fios.

I still say this is much ado about nothing, because they’re going to get the labor dispute settled. Clearly the folks at DirecTV are keeping a close eye on the situation. They’ve even got a link on their page to the NFL’s labor dispute blog.