MLB in social media stumble with MLB.TV blog

Candid updates and comments about technical issues with the Web video service are gone

Major League Baseball purged all postings from an official blog in which it had candidly detailed its progress and troubles with a new media player for its MLB.TV game online video streaming service, a move that won't sit well with subscribers, industry insiders say.

Gone are months' worth of postings, along with hundreds of comments from MLB.TV subscribers, including updates on technical issues that were outstanding as recently as Monday - and quite likely still are.

In the blog, the league had said some of those problems would take weeks to fix, and acknowledged it was still investigating the causes of others.

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 MLB continues to have problems.

"We have a lot more to do still to get the [media] player to perform in a more stable manner across the board," read a now-deleted entry titled "Opening Day" and posted Monday at close to noon U.S. Eastern Time.

Now the blog features only a terse, single message, in which MLB justifies as "predictable" the technical problems encountered and directs subscribers to the support forum for questions and information, implicitly stating that the blog is finished as a communication tool between the league and MLB.TV subscribers, although comments to that single posting are still allowed.

The message is also incorrectly dated as having been posted on Monday, when in fact it went up at some point on Tuesday afternoon or evening. A cached snapshot of the blog's home page before it got scrubbed is at press time still available on Google.

The tone of subscriber comments in the blog had taken a turn from collegial and supportive to exasperated and angry as the start of the season approached and issues remained with the new Flash-based media player and other parts of the service.

Customer frustration was particularly evident in comments made to postings on Sunday and Monday, days when the season officially began.

It's not wise for a corporation to abruptly and radically purge a blog it has used to communicate with paying customers, especially at a point in which customers are feeling upset about a product or a service and when pending issues remain unaddressed, experts say.

"It looks like they were spending a lot of time talking about the problems, giving people updates on what was happening. It seemed like they were doing a great job with this really open dialogue, but then they pulled the whole thing and replaced it with something that just says 'Hey, things are going great,'" said Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, which provides research and advice on social media and emerging technologies. "That's very bad of them."

"It's one thing to have never started the conversation and another thing to just pull it and not even acknowledge why," she added.

With this move, MLB loses a valuable position of control at a time of customer unrest, said Andrew Frank, a Gartner analyst.

"They now can't steer the conversation," he said. "The advantage of being the host of the blog is that you're in a position to address the comments, because the focus of the conversation is within your purview. By shutting off the conversation, you don't stop it: It just moves to other places where it's harder to track and to control. Many companies follow that pattern. It's an instinctive reaction to things that seem to be going out of control."

According to the deleted posts, the main problem affecting subscribers seems to relate to a v-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.

The NexDef plug-in issues cause high-definition playback to freeze and "stutter," according to the deleted posts.

"Fix ticket is in the pipeline; this is a big one and will require a couple of weeks," read Monday's post regarding NexDef.

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 read.

Other problems have included "spotty" access to some archived games, as well as audio issues.

While customers can go to the MLB.TV support forum, it's obvious that they flocked to the MLB.TV blog to get the latest official updates on technical issues with the service, a convenience factor that the forum can't offer with its hundreds of discussion threads and topics.

The tone of the single post now on the blog may also exacerbate tensions with customers even more, especially the statement that the technical issues are "predictable," which brings up the question then of why they aren't more preventable.

In the now-deleted entry posted Sunday and titled "Opening Night," MLB apologized for not using the blog more actively to communicate in days prior.

"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," the post read.

It seems that the fires got out of control and the MLB couldn't take the heat emanating from the blog comments.

MLB didn't respond to requests for comment.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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