Did MLB.com's video player strike out on opening day?

The technology unit of major league baseball says a small number of subscribers saw stalled or stuttering video and some blame Adobe.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

Some subscribers of Major League Baseball's streaming-video service are complaining that the new player, powered by Adobe Flash, isn't ready for the big leagues.

After receiving plenty of favorable reviews from technology blogs, some MLB.com subscribers have complained about stuttering and stalling video while watching on Monday, opening day for baseball. Some of the same problems continued on Tuesday, according to reports. Subscribers of MLB.com's GameDay Audio service also reported that archived games haven't been accessible since Monday.

" The video froze on me in the ninth inning. I couldn't see the finish (of the Twins ninth-inning rally on Tuesday night) until ESPN came on... I was mad."
-- Charlie Wagner, CNET photographer

The irony is that Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the unit that oversees the streaming service, discontinued using Microsoft's Silverlight player because of chronic glitches and disagreements over how the player should function, CNET reported on Monday. In the story, Bob Bowman, CEO of MLBAM declined to go into detail about why he dropped Microsoft but said baseball is engaged in an ongoing dispute with Microsoft "because of the significant problems" the league encountered last year.

"I wonder how long before Adobe gets the boot," Timothy Thorson told CNET. Thorson said he is a longtime MLB.com subscriber and listens to the games from his home in Germany, where he works as a pianist and translator. "Baseball is one of the things I miss most about the U.S. There are others like me who get up in the morning and want to listen to the game and now we can't."

The glitches affected less than 1 percent of the company's 500,000 subscribers and were not caused by Adobe's player, said Matt Gould, MLBAM's spokesman. Gould added that as of Wednesday evening, eight games were in progress and three were completed and there were no complaints. "We didn't bat 1.000 on opening day, but there are 2,200 games remaining in the major league season. We look forward to providing the most engaging high-def experience for our subscribers."

Adobe said in a statement: "We've been in regular contact with MLB.com, and have heard nothing but praise about the Flash platform."

"We've been in regular contact with MLB.com, and have heard nothing but praise about the Flash platform."

Gould said the malfunctions were relatively minor and were far fewer and less severe than last season, when many subscribers were unable to even log in. That was when MLB.com was using Silverlight. Gould said that delivering true high-definition streaming video is a complex task and baseball is only now working out the kinks because it couldn't fully test the video feeds from major league ballparks until opening day. Teams don't play in their home stadiums during spring training.

"We've had very small window to do end-to-end testing," Gould said.

As I discussed the situation with Gould on the phone, Charlie Wagner, a CNET photographer overheard me. He told me he was prevented from seeing a ninth-inning rally by his favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday night when his MLB.com video player broke down.

"The video froze on me in the ninth inning," said Wagner, who has subscribed to the service for three years. "I couldn't see the finish until ESPN came on... I was mad."

Despite the problems, he Wagner said he thinks the picture quality is better.

As for Silverlight, the company declined to comment but on a blog post, Steve Sklepowich, a Microsoft executive, did challenge one of Bowman's assertions about Adobe. Bowman suggested that Adobe was a better fit for baseball because of Flash's wide consumer adoption.

"While Flash 9 may have high penetration," Sklepowich wrote, "the Swarmcast NexDef plug-in that helps power MLB's HD experience has virtually no adoption. Ubiquity here is a red herring. What customers really want are high quality solutions. Silverlight has been doing that since its inception and already supports the ability to deliver true HD using IIS Smooth Streaming with no additional plug-in required."

Perhaps Bowman described the situation best this week when he said that streaming video on the Web isn't as trustworthy yet as television. "You turn on the TV and it just works," he said. "(Internet video) still has a ways to go."