MLBAM’s MLB.TV, At Bat Get Horse-Power Boost From PS4, Xbox One, and iOS 7
MLB Advanced Media’s MLB.TV streaming product and At Bat mobile app have been at the top of the digital-sports heap for so long now that it’s easy to forget just how much they have evolved since they debuted 12 and six years ago, respectively. Both products are now available on more platforms with more features and better video quality and are used by more subscribers than ever before.
“[MLB.TV and At Bat] are interesting in the sense [that], sometimes, when you have a product that’s mature,” says MLB Advanced Media CTO/SVP, Content Technology, Joe Inzerillo, “people don’t talk about all the little [upgrades] that actually aren’t necessarily so little.”
As the platforms continue to evolve, subscription and viewership numbers have continued to rise. Just look at the first week of the season, when MLB.TV and At Bat combined to deliver 94 million total video streams, up 88% over the record set in the first week of the 2013 season. Meanwhile, At Bat, annually the highest-grossing sports app, was downloaded 5 million times during the first week of the season, 25% higher than the record set in 2013.
Game Consoles Open Up Market
The biggest news this year for the MLBAM products is the launch of MLB.TV Premium for Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. Although MLB.TV Premium was already available on more than 4,000 supported mobile and connected devices, the two game consoles — both of which hit the market last November — present high-powered new platforms that MLBAM believes are capable of significantly boosting the MLB.TV service.
“Those two new consoles are the biggest thing to show up on the connected-device space, but, because they were all released in the winter time frame for the holidays, we [haven’t] operated a season with these devices in the marketplace,” says Inzerillo. “There are just not a lot of Xbox One or PlayStation 4 apps. So getting our features in there, seeing how they’re working, really experiencing the new kind of world of that stuff has been great.”
Inzerillo expects multiple MLB.TV updates for both PS4 and Xbox One throughout the season and says his teams are working closely with Sony and Microsoft to improve MLB content on both platforms. With that in mind, MLBAM has put a priority on recruiting and hiring outside contractors in an effort to create new functionality that caters to these new game consoles. Although MLBAM has long believed in creating first-party products for mobile devices, it is now also bringing nearly all of its connected-device offerings in-house as well.
“Part of the reason for that is really to be able to push the innovation curve,” he says. “It’s a lot harder to do unless you’re the folks that are writing that low-level code.”
All the features that fans have come to expect from MLB.TV are back this season, including Full HD adaptive-bitrate streaming on all devices; in-game real-time highlights and stats within the MLB.TV Media Player (with picture-in-picture option); live-game DVR controls with the ability to jump back 10 seconds to create a custom replay; drag-and-drop Mosaic viewing, which allows users to watch up to four games at once (picture-in-picture, split-screen, or quad views on PC and Mac only); full-game archives with no local or national blackout restrictions; pitch analysis that tracks the location, type, and speed of every pitch live; clickable line scores, allowing a user to click on a player’s image to launch video clips of a recent at-bat; Fantasy Player Tracker, allowing users to watch live look-ins for each player on their fantasy team; and the option to watch home and away broadcasts (for Premium subscribers only).
However, MLBAM continues to look for new ways to utilize its robust data and content assets within the MLB.TV platform, such as analytical player tracking (which MLBAM is currently testing at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Minnesota’s Target Field, and New York’s Citi Field). The latest GPU-driven game consoles, says Inzerillo, will drive much of this next-gen development.
“In the past, on something like the PlayStation 3, it might not have been possible to do analytic player tracking with all the elaborate overlays and the data augmentations and things like that that we [plan],” says Inzerillo. “It’s way easier to do that on these platforms that have a whole lot more graphics and horsepower.
“As these devices become more capable, we can start to leverage more and more of our robust data or other assets that we’re acquiring,” he continues. “So the most exciting thing is not even just what we’re doing now and the fact we have good apps out in the marketplace; it’s what the next thing we are going to [develop for those platforms] that I think will really start blowing some minds.”
Also good news for baseball fans is the price-point drop this season for MLB.TV, as MLB.TV Premium is available for $114.99 per year or $24.9 a month (down from $129.99 per year); the standard subscription is now $94.99 per year or $19.99 a month (down from $109.99 per year). A Premium subscription adds MLB At Bat for free, along with the ability to watch home and away feeds on every available mobile or connected device (including PS4 and Xbox One).
At Bat Enters the Batter’s Box With Expanded Replay, iOS 7
The headline this year in the At Bat app is the introduction of expanded instant replay. MLBAM’s new built-in video integration allows users to watch every decisive instant-replay video clip and live look-ins to manager challenges, as well as a complete review explanation. The move is part of MLBAM’s overarching effort to make At Bat not just a first-screen viewing experience but also a second-screen companion experience.
“It’s actually quite a heavy lift in the sense of trying to make At Bat not just a first-screen product — which we’ve had a lot of success with, and we think it’s a really solid first-screen product — but make it an even better second-screen product than it is,” he says. “We are still [in the] early days of that implementation.”
Also new is a completely redesigned interface for iOS 7, which debuted near the end of the 2013 MLB season, as well as additional push-notification options (including every run-scoring play), a new inline video-playback capability, and new league-wide scoreboard functionality for single-tap expansion.
“iOS 7 dropped at the very end of our season last year, and so it didn’t really make a lot of sense to try to put out a release just for cosmetic reasons and not take advantage of the underlying iOS 7 functionality,” says Inzerillo. “So At Bat this year is aesthetically very different. We’ve really moved it to the iOS 7 user guidelines and taken advantage of a lot of the cool stuff that’s in the background, like better push notification, more timely video replays.”
MLB At Bat is available for a one-time annual fee of $19.99 for the entire 2014 season or $2.99 a month or as part of a MLB.TV Premium subscription.