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The Watchman: NBA All-Star Game Was Nothing Special Online

The Watchman is a regular StreamingMedia.com opinion column that focuses on the viewer experience for high-profile online video events.
I had a profound online video experience this past weekend that showed Internet video’s almost limitless potential while also highlighting the limits of how far the industry has come.

It happened Sunday night. I was cheating on my monk-like quest to only watch online video and had turned on the TV. While surfing through I came upon the NBA All-Star game on TNT. As I don’t pay for cable, the channel was too fuzzy to watch.

Then it dawned on me: Surely this video can be enjoyed online!

So I went to TNT.com, clicked on a link on the homepage, and was watching a live stream within seconds. It was truly brilliant how quickly the desire to watch was able to turn into actually watching.

But what I was watching wasn’t simply the TV feed streamed online.

When first entering I encountered a four-square video window that showed four separate live videos. After a moment I realized I could click on any quarter to watch one video, and that the buttons on the bottom of the interface correlated to the cameras. These buttons were labeled: Kobe, Lebron, Arena, Host.

As I clicked through to a specific camera a video ad played. This placement felt right to I. They knew I wanted to keep watching as I’d clicked a button so they had a captive audience, and while the ad felt a little long it wasn’t so egregious to dissuade me from staying tuned in.

The same thing happened again when another video was clicked. More specifically, the exact same thing happened, as in the same Sprite ad repeated itself that had just played a few moments earlier. Whenever I encounter repeating ads I have to wonder: Why can’t they queue up different ads from the same advertiser? Seeing the same exact ad doesn’t reinforce the message, it just annoys the viewer. I understand that the ad that played was tailor-made for the All-Star game and that Sprite likely didn’t want to pay to create a bunch of different one-off ads, but why couldn’t they load up other Sprite commercials?

But then things got a little weird. Despite I clicking constantly between cameras I only encountered one more in-stream ad the rest of the time I watched, and that only happened when I had navigated away from and back to the site. Despite watching for more than a quarter, at least 20 minutes of viewing time, I only saw three in-stream ads, even though I was willing to watch a lot more. This was puzzling, as it seemed as if TNT didn’t want to make money—or perhaps advertisers just weren’t willing to pony up for spots. In fact, I almost started feeling guilty that I was consuming all this video without having to watch any ads. And I wondered how Sprite could be happy with their sponsorship given that most of the time their brand’s only presence was a small logo off to the side.

Regarding the quality of the video, I was generally satisfied. It was good enough to be able to recognize the players, even if it wasn’t so good as to allow me to read the names on the jerseys. It was an interruption-free stream despite watching for a good chunk of time. And the size of the video was reasonable, as streaming video has now broken the playing-card barrier. I was disappointed, however, when I blew the video up to fullscreen; according to my bandwidth meter the bitrate did not change and as a result the video got real ugly real quickly. In fact I spent most of the time watching the smaller window, as going fullscreen did not deliver a high quality experience.

The most notable attempt at innovation in this experience was the use of multiple cameras. But while they hinted at the potential online delivery offers, they were flawed in their execution.

Perhaps the best examples of this were the Kobe/Lebron cameras. While they sound like a good idea in theory, in practice I found them far from compelling.

First off the cameras focused too tightly on the players in question, to the point where when watching them you had no real sense for how Kobe/Lebron were moving relative to the rest of the action on the court. This was especially bad in an All-Star game where there’s less movement and more standing around watching other players go one-on-one.

Secondly, these cameras kept focusing on Kobe/Lebron even when they went to the bench, which led to I having the rather unpleasant experience of watching Kobe/Lebron successively pick their noses while riding the pine. Talk about Must-See TV!

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