TNT-NBA Live Stream Not Ready for Primetime

Credit the NBA and TNT for taking the huge leap of faith by streaming a nationally televised playoff game on the Internet. Another sign the future of digital media is now. This particular partnership, after completing a groundbreaking television contract that included digital rights earlier this year, and building a dedicated Internet video portal during the season (TNT Overtime at NBA.com) has a chance to set the trend for the major leagues.

Trailblazers – not the kind from Portland – benefit from being ahead of the curve, and fail by being ahead of the credit, because they encounter problems. TNT’s experiment with the Western Conference Finals is filled with shortcomings that prevent the experience from fully engaging the user, frustrating enough to push experimental viewers back to the TV set, and just downright irritate users with no television option.

Video was solid, slightly jumpy and a touch grainy at times, but overall high quality. The multi-camera view immediately caught my attention when first announced. That’s what will separate the online experience – and eventually interactive TV – from regular television. Interactivity – allowing the user to create the experience – is at the crux of digital media. Rather than user’s choosing from using any camera deployed around the court, they picked from the regular feed, a player cam that followed one individual player from each team as voted by the fans each quarter, the “robo” cam from overhead, or a mosaic that had all four views. Alternatively, users could use a view from the Arena jumbotron. I see more options in the future, a good start nonetheless. Unlike most streaming video applications, no option exists to switch the view to full screen. Grainy screen or not, some users buy big screen monitors for a reason.

Multimedia means media from multiple sources – notably audio and video. TNT delivered the video, not the audio. Users are exposed to the ambient arena noise, enough to hear the fans and PA announcer. Without the broadcasters its difficult to follow the game, especially if you watch the player cam and can’t follow the ball. As annoying as some broadcasters can be, they are there for a reason. Hearing the foul situation, the coach’s strategy, the interviews between quarters, the numerous other stories that develop throughout a game, its part of the experience. TNT failed to deliver.

In-line with audio possibilities, TNT should consider using the player mic – a smashing success when used on an entertaining player like Rony Turiaf, evidenced with his various histrionics on Friday night. Give the fans something. The broadcasters, player mics, even fan commentary from people at the game. Delivering a combination of all three is optimal, again allowing the user at home to create the experience, something television cannot accomplish.

Compounding the lack of commentary, the player provided no access to stats or a boxscore. Instantaneous access to information is another cornerstone of digital media. Fans want stats, lots of them. More than just points and rebounds, shot charts, the ability to look up season stats, the interesting trends that broadcaster routinely cite (points in the paint, 10-0 runs, etc.). All that is possible online. TNT could replace the upcoming schedule on the left column with a box score and have miscellaneous stats pop up during the game, or provide links to get more detailed stats. At least give users the option to add a stats section somewhere on the screen.

Chat is another perfect application for streaming live games. Let the fans interact. TNT and the NBA got one part right, creating three channels, one each for fans of the two teams, and a general one. Only problem, users had to use a completely separate window to chat, preventing them from watching the game. Even though it required a separate window (or tab), the chat window only used the left quarter of the screen, leaving the entire middle blank. Chat and message boards during live events are tough to monitor and keep up with, making it difficult to use it as a forum to ask announcers questions, yet its a key interaction that people use. They are already online watching, engage them further, keep them on the site. This chat application was not user-friendly or as engaging as I envisioned.

Overall, nice to see a major league and major broadcaster take a stab at advancement. Now, the key is to learn from these shortcomings and continually make it better, and expand the coverage.

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