Friday Night Baseball

I watched a bit of the first “Friday Night Baseball” – Mets at Nationals. I’m generally a Tigers fan, but the Mets are my adopted team, as I was taught from a young age to dislike the Yankees.

I gave FNB a short review on Twitter: “Good production value, high quality, but several technical glitches, which is very Apple. I love hearing women’s voices for commentary. I wonder what’s powering the graphics, which are clearly Apple-styled.”

The Troll

The reply I got, fairly quickly, was a derogatory and predictable. Some “Real Texan” believes that women have no place calling Major League Baseball games. Maybe Real Texan feels threatened by the involvement of women at every level of the game? I don’t know. Trolls are gonna troll.

You have the freedom of speech, Troll McTexas, but you don’t have a right to be heard. Let’s move on.

Technical Review

I’ll just quickly credential myself a little – I’ve never worked in the Major Leagues, but I moonlight with the local university’s News and Information Department working live sports production. I’m primarily a replay machine operator for football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and other sports. Productions I’ve been a part of have streamed on ESPN3 / ESPN+, broadcast on our local PBS affiliate, and been picked up regionally by Comcast, at various points in the last 15 years. I’ve been working in live productions for over 20 years at this point (uhhhhh I’m getting old).

The game itself had a handful of technical glitches. I was very impressed, actually, that there weren’t more issues simply loading and streaming the game itself – live video streaming takes quite a bit of infrastructure, and it’s common to get it wrong. I noticed just a handful of things:

  • The stream popped right up for me, and started streaming in nearly full-resolution at the start. Compared with DirecTV Now (my OTT live tv provider), this is pretty impressive. Surfing channels on streaming services is basically exposing yourself to macro blocks until you finally settle on a channel for a bit. I’d actually call this a pretty big launch-day-win for Apple.
  • There were multiple replay glitches that I spotted. At one point, it looked like there was a cut sequence of replay sample cards. It happens.
  • There were a handful of time-skips, where it appeared something had gotten behind and then the broadcast jumped forward 5-10 seconds. That’s not entirely surprising, but I’m not sure where the actual time was lost. Perhaps in commercial break, or perhaps there was just streaming delays. I may have been seeing the stream jump from one broadcast server to another based on bandwidth availability. (I have gig fiber, but you’re only as fast as all the interconnects between.)

The Graphics

This feels like the most interesting part of the broadcast to me. The graphics are so Apple-styled, that it would be easy to look at them as UI. The score bug, for example, looks like it got pulled right out of Apple Fitness+. They looked like interactive widgets to the point where I attempted to use the remote to highlight them and see if they’d expand or change.

They don’t interact, but they look closer to UI widgets than burned-in graphics. And I suspect that eventually that’s where Apple would like to go. If anything, it’s just another argument that Apple should add just a little more decoration to things that really do interact: the flat design UI harms usability when you start thinking that any piece of graphical information could be a button or a menu.

I really like the look. I also love that there’s no always-up ticker; one of the things I like the least about watching sports elsewhere is the inescapable news feed at the bottom of the screen. I don’t need scores from other games. I can’t believe that before TVs were 45+ inches and 16:9 aspect ratio as a matter of course that we ever tolerated so much screen space eaten by tiny moving words and numbers.

Unfortunately, if Apple starts adding more sports and covering more live events, I can’t help but feel like they will cave in and and add a running sports news ticker of some kind. I sincerely hope they don’t. It’s just clutter.

Basketball Please

I do enjoy a good baseball game in person, but I can’t help but find it a bit boring to watch on TV. Will I watch more Friday Night Baseball? Probably for the couple of games that the Tigers play.

But I would love for Apple to add Basketball. I know it’s a pipe dream to wish for Hockey, but I’d love that too.

I suspect that the actual next sport they’ll add will be (American) Football. Football is a sport that is practically engineered for television; the play stops every 30ish seconds, instant replays work their way in between, there’s lots of opportunities for advertising, and there’s always interpersonal drama to cover.

I hope to see more, and I would love to see interactivity become a part of the experience. Play on.

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