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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

MLB.tv via ROKU: Six months of headaches

A promising new way to watch MLB games over the internet has proven to be extremely disappointing.

Roku Player andMLB.tvI am not heavily into consumer advocacy or that kind of thing. However, I do care about how baseball broadcasts are delivered. This is the second consecutive night I cannot see the game I want to see in the manner for which I paid, continuing six mostly unhappy months.

Being a traveling type, the convenience of MLB.tv is hard to not like. Over the winter, I read a review on BizofBaseball.com about a new piece of technology first delivered late in the 2009 season that is intended to complement MLB.tv.

ROKU is a small electronic device that connects your television to the internet. Offering a number of channels including Netflix and Pandora, ROKU had established a growing customer base. What interested me was the announcement of a partnership with Major League Baseball to deliver MLB.tv via ROKU.

After reading the ROKU marketing materials, which promised HD-quality broadcasts and the ability to watch spring training games, I ordered a box in February to accompany my annual MLB.tv subscription.

In my case, it would allow me to watch games without having to connect my laptop to the television with bulky cables and see them with a better quality picture.

Immediately, the problems began. Though MLB materials said MLB.tv Premium was required, ROKU later said it was not. Money wasted.

Perhaps due to issues with the data stream, ROKU was not ready to deliver its 2010 MLB support during spring training. The regular season opened with the respective websites still bragging about the ability for their customers to see EVERY one of the 2,430 scheduled games this season (minus blackouts).

MLB-Roku-false-advertising Still, no service. ROKU representatives stalled, buying time by offering participation in a beta program to unhappy customers like me. I later learned that during March, those who had previously complained about not being able to watch spring games were offered a beta program, but there was no follow through.

Roku GA 042410 emailThe promised beta program did not open until April 20, over two weeks after the MLB regular season was underway. ROKU waited all of three days, April 23, before declaring general availability despite the application being unreliable. The graphic is from a ROKU email dated April 24.

Early service was loaded with problems, many times so bad games could not be watched. Over the intervening weeks, ROKU provided several code updates, but were closed-lipped as to the precise nature of the problems.

They had the nerve to send me a customer satisfaction survey on one of the many days their service was not working. I stopped short of profanity, but just barely.

In the meantime, scores of dissatisfied ROKU MLB.tv users flooded the company forum with messages reporting their nightly frustrations trying to view games. Many users unable to secure refunds gave up and resold their ROKUs on ebay for whatever they could recover.

MLB.tv would not issue credit to dissatisfied ROKU users. A complaint call to MLB actually led them to point out their advertising says all 2,430 games can be seen live OR on demand, not necessarily AND. Not being able to watch games while they are actually being played was not grounds for them to grant a refund.

After several rough months, by summer, performance seemed to stabilize somewhat. It didn’t last long. This month, the old problems returned nightly – freezing, rebuffering, delays.

Almost any evening when the ROKU failed, I was still able to see the game of choice via my laptop, but in that case, why did I blow $100 on a ROKU?

At this point, the MLB application is what it is – undependable. The ROKU forum thread for user problems with MLB.tv has grown to 127 pages, 1900 posts!

I haven’t seen any ROKU employees bother to post anything in weeks. After all, what can they say? Whether it is MLB’s problem or ROKU’s doesn’t matter to the end user. The ROKU-MLB.tv offering is a failure.

Since BizofBaseball.com’s review was part of my decision-making process, I emailed the head of the site and directed him to the ROKU forum to learn the reality for himself. Apparently, he wasn’t interested in helping to get out the bad news.

As I noted before, ROKU has value to many with its other applications, but for MLB.tv, my warning is to stay away, far away. There are other far more dependable alternatives available for watching MLB games.

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