Baseball season opens with Web video problems

Major League Baseball acknowledges a variety of issues affecting its MLB.TV streaming service

Major League Baseball's fee-based MLB.TV game video-streaming service is having technical problems that are affecting the quality of the Web broadcasts.

The league acknowledged as much in posts on Sunday and Monday - the first days of the season - in the official MLB.TV blog.

"First off, yesterday was not great. Apologies for the lack of communication. There were many fires and we were off working on them and didn't man the blog," Sunday's post, titled "Opening Night," begins.

Things were still bumpy the next day. "We have a lot more to do still to get the [media] player to perform in a more stable manner across the board," reads Monday's post, titled "Opening Day."

According to the posts, the main problem affecting subscribers seems to relate to a plug-in called NexDef that is necessary for various features of the MLB TV "premium" option, including high-definition quality and DVR-type functions, like pausing, fast-forwarding and rewinding live broadcasts.

NexDef is a plug-in designed exclusively for MLB.TV that automates a PC's bandwidth management, according to information on the league's Web site.

"This is particularly ideal for those with slower Internet connections, but useful for everyone. NexDef also allows MLB.TV Premium subscribers to stream our highest quality video feeds and pause and rewind live games within the media player," the site reads.

Some subscribers have also encountered what MLB describes as a "weird black screen" upon starting up the video player.

"This one is a bit scary. We think it is related to pre-roll advertisements. That has been removed. We will be monitoring this one closely," Sunday's post reads. Other problems have included "spotty" access to some archived games, as well audio issues.

This isn't an encouraging debut for MLB.TV's new player, which the league beta tested for months and which uses Adobe's Flash technology.

The NexDef plug-in issues cause high-definition playback to freeze and "stutter." "Fix ticket is in the pipeline; this is a big one and will require a couple of weeks," reads Monday's post, regarding NexDef.

Unsurprisingly, subscribers aren't happy, as evidenced by the steady stream of angry comments left on the MLB.TV blog, the official MLB.TV support discussion forum and even on articles posted on the MLB.com Web site.

In addition to issues with NexDef, some people are reporting problems even when streaming at lower-quality settings, while others are having trouble logging into MLB.TV.

"I am not the type to just lower the boom on MLB.TV, but when the discussion boards are FULL of reported problems and evidence that almost NOTHING is working, it is difficult to read your blog entry without any sort of real apology without being very frustrated and angry," wrote one subscriber on Tuesday morning, in a post that captures the generalized frustration and anger of hundreds of other commenters.

"Is anyone reading these comments? Is the existence of the forum and this blog just a ploy to keep us quiet and let us vent into empty space? We need to have the feeling we are actually being heard. I know two things I am not hearing or seeing: an apology and the games."

MLB didn't respond to requests for comment made on Monday and Tuesday.

An MLB.TV "premium" subscription costs US$109.95 per year or $19.95 per month, while the standard MLB.TV service goes for $79.95 per year or $14.95 per month.

The league also had technical difficulties at the start of last year's season, including slow response times at the MLB.com site and problems with the media player, which had gotten upgraded with Microsoft's Silverlight technology.

After the season ended, MLB decided to drop Silverlight in favor of Flash, but, evidently, the league was again unable to avoid significant technical problems at the start of this season.

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