Silverlight Dawns Across MLB.com

By Carl Lindemann

Most of the fanfare for the next generation of Microsoft products came with the launch of Vista. Silverlight 1.0, the company’s next-gen media player, has been waiting in the wings and is poised for widespread adoption with MLB leading the pack. The Web-based application runs inside MLB.com and serves as a conduit for the vast amount of content and data available on the site. It allows fans to create a custom mix-and-match to deliver what they want and how they want it.

Justin Shaffer, MLB’s Senior Vice President, New Media, sees Silverlight’s arrival as the opening of a new era. “We have been working closely with Microsoft since Silverlight’s early stages of development,” he says. “It’s a major leap ahead taking us about three years ahead of the pack in what is a fast-moving field.”

MLB has been a big-time Windows Media shop for some time. According to Shaffer, it has worked well for MLB’s needs because it is the only live solution that can scale to meet the heavy demand. Work on the new system began at the end of last year ahead of the unveiling at NAB. What Silverlight brings is a far more versatile, flexible user interface.

“Getting the UI right makes a massive difference in fan satisfaction,” he adds. “Silverlight gives them the pieces they like put together how they like them.”

Silverlight has a mass of new features and functionality, but the standout for Shaffer is the ability to synch live statistics in video streams. This lets fans create overlays that are the at-home equivalent of having your own Chyron at home. This feature will become available by Spring training next year.

For all that, the program has a very small footprint and will run on very modest systems. The reason why Silverlight is so nimble is because the software engineers did not start with the full Windows Media system code. Instead, they worked from the mobile player implementation for cell phone to arrive at an elegant, efficient product with no hardware acceleration.

Shaffer is confident that MLB fans will be quick to jump on the Silverlight bandwagon judging by far focus groups and in-house aficionados. Obviously, as the new Microsoft face for online media, it can’t help but become dominant. What will make this a winner at MLB.com is if it effectively mines the wealth of baseball media and data the league offers.

“We have an enormous amount of material that fans are eager to access and Silverlight opens it all up for them,” Shaffer says.