Welcome to the third day of our experiment. Here are the rules: No live sports, no news wrap-ups, no talk shows, no documentaries, no pregame or postgame cacklefests. Nothing but a computer and a phone to get through the week.
Day Three: MLB
The sport most associated with sepia-toned nostalgia is the sport that's leading the way in online video presence. Yes, the sport which has done so much wrong in its history -– racially, economically, pharmaceutically -- has done something very, very right technologically.
MLB Advanced Media, baseball's online arm, not only controls all baseball content, it's a diversified entity that has also handled web video for everyone from ESPN to Bon Jovi. It's a valuable enough property that baseball recently declined a reported $1 billion in offers from private equity firms.
How did the property get so valuable? By doing video exactly right. MLB offers streaming video to just about every device you can imagine -- oh, watching baseball on an iPad is indescribably cool -- with a range of subscription options for both the short and long term. The video functions as a de facto DVR, with pause and rewind functions on live video. (Fast-forward has to wait until the game's done, of course.)
The only real downside of MLB.TV, is the same that exists in other streaming sites: Blackout restrictions. No circumventing your local TV broadcast if the home team's in town.
There was apparently a time when the generations would gather around the radio to listen to baseball. And now, future generations will be able to come together over the warm glow of a smartphone to hear the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. Kids will sneak iPhones into class and under the covers at night to listen to baseball games. It won't be Ken Burns-esque mythology, but it'll be baseball, and it'll still be everywhere.
Australian Open (and Cricket!)
Part of the joy of sports is toe-dipping every so often into competitions you normally wouldn't stop to watch if they were being played in your own front yard. Normally, I couldn't care less about, say, soccer, but when the World Cup rolls around, I dive in. Same for the Olympics and pro tennis.
The smarter world sports organizations recognize this, and they make it as easy and pain-free for dilettantes like me. NBC streamed hundreds of hours of the 2010 Winter Olympics, allowing viewers to keep up with actual action while the TV broadcast showed yet another feel-good story about an Olympic athlete who triumphed over adversity. I watched the USA's run in the World Cup via stream at my neighborhood pool, barely restraining myself from cursing as the little kids wandered by. And right now, there's the Australian Open, where you can wait around for the big dogs to play or you can do like I did and watch Tsvetana Pironkova take on Monica Niculescu in the early rounds. (What, you didn't?)
While many tournaments, like Wimbledon, have their own streaming sites, the centerpiece of international competition for the moment is ESPN3.com, ESPN's streaming online headquarters. Here, you can watch every match of the Australian Open. Games are left on the server for several days at a time, so if you happen to, you know, sleep through a match that starts at 11 p.m. Eastern, it's right there waiting for you when you get up.
Some knocks: Access to ESPN3 is determined by your Internet provider; if your provider has an alignment with the gang in Bristol, you're good, but if not, you're stuck. Also, video quality ranges from decent to slideshow choppy, though the audio is almost always steady. It's the price you pay for watching sports half a world away as it happens.
But it's not just the familiar sports that make the grade. Also on ESPN3, I watched a cricket match between Barbados and Canada. Three words:
What. The. Hell.
I've often wondered what people from other countries must think of, say, the Super Bowl, with its unrelenting assault of analysis, graphics, sound and fury, with occasional game play spackled in. And now I know. I have absolutely no idea what was happening in this match, how you score, what happens when you swing the bat-thing, where you run, when to cheer, or how you determine a winner. But none of that mattered, because it was sports and it was gloriously incomprehensible. Thank you, ESPN3.