Baseball blacks-out online

From first to wurst

In 2003, your $14.95 bought you full-screen, streaming video of all of the non-blacked out games. You also got audio as an option for those games that were blacked out. Pricey? Sure, but all of the internet subscription services are pricey right now. It's just remarkable that MLB was so on the seamed ball to offer the service.

Today, your $14.95 per month buys you much less. For starters, you get no audio. So, if the game is blacked out, you're expected to miss it or to shell out for an additional audio subscription, which costs $14.95 for the whole season. Those of you who prefer not to use Windows Media or are on a Mac where Windows Media doesn't work so well are even worse off. MLB Advanced Media cut its ties to Real Networks this year. Now TV subscribers can't get full-screen video without Windows Media and can't get full-screen at all on Macs. In fact, the service is so awful on Macs as to be almost unusable.

The Windows Media problem applies to few, but the blackout problem applies to many. When not writing Father's Day puff pieces or player hagiographies, Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan has done a nice job of covering the blackout debacle here. Passan promised to ask commissioner Bud Selig about the issue during the All-Star game, and he actually managed to get an answer from Bud the Dud. Now Passan can go back to exploring Carlos Beltran's interest in toy cars.

MLB Advanced Media once had plans for a $2bn to $3bn IPO but recently gave up on that idea. The scaled back agenda seems like a good call given the problems surrounding the company's major service.

Beyond the video issues, MLB.com's website also proves tough to use as it makes processing power and memory disappear. The fan on our computer flips on the moment we hit mlb.com and turns off the moment we close the window. In addition, we notice that the streaming video broadcasts continue to show regular TV commercials during a number of games - and we're sure the actor's union is keeping a close eye on that.

MLB Advanced Media had every chance to set the example as to how all leagues should distribute their games online. And, in fact, the company took a number of positive steps toward that goal.

Over the past two years, however, the MLB.com service has become an awkward embarrassment. Our yearly subscription will be coming to an end in October after the Astros win the World Series.

It's unacceptable for a company with the national pastime in its hands to do such a poor job of managing the baseball franchise online. American business is based on doing things better, faster and cheaper. Consumers tend to abhor paying the same price for fewer options and worse service.

Here's hoping that MLB Advanced Media and the commissioner's office can get their acts together. They are, after all, dealing with some of baseball's most loyal fans - those willing to pay a high monthly fee to watch only baseball. Hardly the bunch you want to lose because of some silly policies and incompetence. ®

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