News and Analysis
It was rough 24 hours for those who believe live streaming will soon replace traditional pay TV.

First on Tuesday night, Sling TV, the Dish-owned live streaming service, began experiencing widespread technical glitches that prevented many subscribers from logging in. If they were able to log in, they then had difficulty watching a live channel without getting an error message on screen.

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Sling issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying the problem had been fixed, but the snafu had already so angered subscribers that some threatened to switch services.

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While Sling was issuing its mea culpa, Facebook was preparing to stream its first Major League Baseball game as part of its exclusive $35 million agreement with the league to show 25 weekday afternoon games this season.

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The game, which pitted the New York Mets against the Philadelphia Phillies, would not be available anywhere else. Not on a regional sports channel, and not even on MLB.TV or Extra Innings, the league’s pay packages of out-of-market games.

While the game was free to Facebook users, fans were not impressed, according to several publications. The stream often froze or ‘buffered,’ forcing viewers to adjust their settings. For added insult, Facebook’s on-screen graphics tended to dominate the screen, making it difficult to see the action when the stream was good.

“Fans quickly voiced their displeasure with the newfangled broadcast and its glitches…” writes The New York Times. “Several viewers complained that the onscreen scoreboard and statistics banner blocked too much of the screen, as did the comments bar on the side. And in the fifth inning, as the broadcast showed a montage of the Mets’ oft-injured captain David Wright, the feed froze.”

Facebook and MLB issued statements following the game saying they were pleased with the broadcast but promised to do better thanks to viewer feedback.

And it’s likely that they will do better. Facebook has enormous resources and will undoubtedly devote some of them to improving the experience for MLB fans.

It should also be noted that Sling TV had numerous technical problems during its first year or so, but has improved of late. (Not counting the issues that plagued it on Tuesday and Wednesday, of course.) The live streaming service seems to have learned much from its early mistakes.

But the problems that marred the viewing experience of both Facebook and Sling TV users during the last few days serves as another reminder that live streaming isn’t quite ready for prime time.

While the technology is improving — and should improve more with greater investment — live streaming still has too many glitches to be considered a viable replacement for traditional pay TV service.

That doesn’t mean that consumers won’t continue to subscribe to live streaming services such as Sling TV, DIRECTV Now, and the others. The price is attractive (as low as $20 a month for Sling) and the channel lineups are constantly improving. But it does mean that most people will stick with their cable or satellite service until the live streaming picture becomes more reliable.

— Phillip Swann

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