MLB At Bat Has A Season To Forget

Oh, the promises were there in spades. When Apple announced its revamped and much improved Apple TV on September 9, 2015, MLB Advanced Media was there to showcase a brand new MLB At Bat app for tvOS. 2-in-1 viewing. 60 fps video. Tech Times loved it, and who could blame them? We all salivated over how we’d watch baseball in 2016.

So how’d that work out for ya?

Almost from day one, the new MLB At Bat app on Apple TV was an utter disaster. To understand how, let’s look at some of the best features of the previous app:
Hide scores. Hide scores let you toggle the scores on or off so you’d never be spoiled if you joined a game late.
Inning select. A simple click on the old Apple TV remove brought up a marked line for jumping from inning to inning. Couldn’t have been easier.
Game events. Likewise, keep clicking and you’d get a menu that let you jump from one big play to the next. Awesome for reviewing games.
Runs scored. A third click brought up the runs scored menu. Another great way to zip thru a ball game.

It wasn’t perfect. The previous generation Apple TV had some limitations. But it worked, reliably, and provided cool features that made it easy to watch the games you want.

Spring training streams aren’t always the greatest, whether it’s due to the inferior ballparks or what I am not sure. So when the Dodgers broke camp for a freeway exhibition against Anaheim at Dodger Stadium I was blown away by the new 60fps stream.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://t.co/SFvNePHcXp”>https://t.co/SFvNePHcXp</a&gt; picture quality on the new AppleTV is as if I have a new TV. Motion is so smooth. Blown away.</p>&mdash; Kevin Watterson (@kwatt) <a href=”https://twitter.com/kwatt/status/715731575158259712″>April 1, 2016</a></blockquote> //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I am not a fan of the way modern TVs display artificially smooth motion, but this was different. It didn’t look artificial. My TV is a Sharp Aquos from 2006, and At Bat made it look like a top-of-the-line debut model.

That was late March. I’ve seen a stream at 60fps once or twice since. Where it went, I have no idea. I don’t know if they had to downgrade the app to handle poor performance issues or if they simply gave up on it. But it’s gone.

You might be thinking, “Okay, Watterson, maybe you’re just so used to it that now you don’t even notice the 60fps.” Nope. Whenever I pull up a stream on my iPhone 6 I’m mesmerized again, because that is consistently 60fps.

That wasn’t so bad. You can’t really miss a feature you never had.

What made the “new” At Bat app such a pathetic fail is that all those features I listed above disappeared. Flat went missing. POOF. Only the inning selection has come back – in June, three months into the season and 10 months after the app was displayed at the AppleTV announcement – and that in a way that spoils the outcome of a game even if you’ve hidden the scores. The rest are gone and MLB support has given no indication when, if ever, they will return.

Speaking of hide scores, that took months for MLB to iron out, too.

If you tried to get an answer from At Bat support you would get a copy-paste response that it would report your concerns to their development team. Then it would delete your question from their support forums. Over and over again fans would ask, and over and over again they would get deleted.

On top of the missing and slow-to-arrive features, the app’s new UI is somewhat poor. Customers with premium access to home and away broadcast streams lose the option to chose in split-screen view. I don’t know how an app gets released with a UI that takes away premium features, features that we paid to have. That seems to me to be the opposite of what should happen.

All of this sits beside the app’s incredibly inconsistent performance. For the first few months of the season it would freeze almost nightly between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. That eventually got resolved but I’m not sure if there have been any nights when it hasn’t crashed at least once. It crashed once while I was writing this column.

How did this happen? There’s a concept in development called MVP (minimum viable product). I won’t go into it but it basically says release your product at its earliest viable state and iterate, iterate, iterate. MLBAM clearly had access to the new tVOS long before anyone else, yet their flagship app seemed to be released to paying customers as an MVP. At best it was an MVP. I’d actually say from my experience it felt more like a beta.

If I were cynical I’d point out that MLB was forced to offer MLB.tv subscriptions at a lower price this year and say maybe this is why the app was so bad. Why bother refining a product you’re not able to charge full price for? But I’m not that cynical.

Missing features that customers paid for. Miserable performance. MLB Advanced Media owes its paying customers an apology for the product it gave them on Apple TV in 2016.

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