On Wednesday, Major League Baseball made history. It wasn’t for the longest home run, the most strikeouts or any other statistic. The day marked the first time an MLB game (Phillies at Mets) was exclusively broadcasted live on Facebook.
As expected, the broadcast drew mixed reactions. Some fans were thrilled that they could easily watch the Phillies-Mets game on their computer and not have to worry about finding a TV, deal with pesky blackouts or pay the insane price to access MLB.tv. But other fans became frustrated with the new medium. For many viewers, this was their first time watching a broadcast on Facebook Live and they had trouble understanding how to navigate the service, including special features such as the comments overlay and flow of emotes and likes. Broadcaster Scott Braun explained that these features can easily be turned off, to which his partner, Cliff Floyd, responded, “Why would you do that?”
I couldn’t agree more with Floyd. The reason fans don’t like these features is that they are unfamiliar. It will take time to become comfortable with these newly introduced services, but viewers should embrace the increased agency to comment and react to the broadcast, as this enriches the experience.
As a journalism student who hopes to work as a live baseball broadcaster, I am often asked questions like, “Isn’t journalism dying?” or “Won’t TV become obsolete?” My answers are no and yes, respectively — both journalism and television are evolving. With that evolution, viewers, broadcasters and journalists have to understand the potential of these new platforms and how to effectively use them.
The fact of the matter is that this form of broadcast is not new. Traditional professional sports — including the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL — are late in adopting streaming services and a significant portion of their fans have never been exposed to this form of broadcast, as it is mostly common with esports. I only notice this because of my familiarity with esports.
Esports are progressive in their broadcast methods. The first esports matches I watched on Twitch caught me by surprise. The broadcast quality and the sense of community they created were an unrivaled experience. Fans are able to simultaneously watch the match and chat with other viewers all on the same platform. Before, I had to open a new tab or pull out my phone and navigate to a social media site to post trash talk, my comments or questions. Even then, the chance that I would reach other fans watching the game was slim. With the Twitch chat, I could instantaneously reach everyone watching the match.
A couple years later, the first Counter Strike: Global Offensive match was shown live on TBS. I recall my excitement that esports was making a huge leap forward into the mainstream. I was thrilled to be able to watch the match on TV. When the show came on, the experience was lost. I missed the on-screen chat and ability to message those watching. I felt like I had been pushed further from the community and action of the match. Since that day, I have opted to watch events via a streaming service.
Perhaps the best feature of streaming services are their portability. I can watch a stream on my computer and instantly transfer it to my phone without skipping a beat or missing a thing. While traditional forms of TV offer phone access for live TV, those services are so frustrating that it’s often not worth it. All I need to do when using Facebook Live or Twitch is log onto a website.
While there is no doubt that platforms like Twitch and Facebook Live enhance the viewing experience for fans, they also make things easier for broadcasters. Streaming services allow broadcasters to connect with their audiences. Viewing the stream’s live chat allows the casters to connect with viewers and answer questions or respond to comments. This interaction brings fans closer to the game and encourages them to be active viewers.
This experience is foreign to many viewers, especially to those only familiar with traditional TV. As with all technology, there is a learning curve. It will take a couple years for fans to become comfortable using streaming services. However, I have no doubt that once viewers begin to adopt streaming services as their primary form of media consumption, television will become obsolete.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Does anyone disparage the fact that streaming services like Netflix pushed DVD stores like Blockbuster out of business? No. It is a better service and provides a better user experience. The way we consume media is constantly evolving and we must adapt to and welcome these changes.
Sam Arslanian is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Mondays.