As many of you know, I am a vocal proponent of Media Center technology, having powered my home entertainment center with a Windows Media Center for several years now. A natural pairing to the Media Center technology is the ESPN 360 service.
Being a Florida Gator fan living in northern New England, it can be difficult to catch all of my team’s football games each season. Unless they’re playing a nationally telecast game, and if there isn’t a Big 10 team playing somebody, there’s a good chance it won’t be aired up here. Satellite is an option, but has obvious drawbacks, and while I tried getting together with the regional Gator Club, driving into Boston from New Hampshire every Saturday was just a little unwieldy.
When I first moved up here in 1998, I used to drive into the office on Saturday’s so I could listen to the game on Internet Radio using the work connection, which was substantially better than the dialup available out of my home. Then DSL became available and I was able to listen from home. Now, a short 10 years later, I am not only able to listen to the games from home, I now watch the video streamed over the Internet with the ESPN 360 service. The video is powered by Move Networks Media Player, and all things considered, the video quality is fantastic. (Incidentally, it looks like Microsoft just made an investment into Move Networks, which may lead to a Silverlight experience…)
There is one caveat to this service. A few years ago, the video was available for a paid annual subscription to ESPN’s GameCast online. ESPN abandoned that model in 2007, moving content to the “free” ESPN 360 service. I qualify the phrase “free” because the service is only available once they validate who your ISP is. When I first discovered this, I was using Comcast Cable for my internet access, and 360 was not available. I contacted Comcast, and was told that the qualifier for an ISP was not a bandwidth check, but rather whether the ISP had or had not paid ESPN for the privilege of carrying 360. Instead of a hit-or-miss individual subscription model, ESPN went with a model where the ISP was charged a high amount of money. (This is further validated by the fact that I verified the service was not available from the T1 Internet connection at my office – supplied by Verizon.) In my opinion, the Internet is not supposed to work that way…sites aren’t supposed to care who my current ISP is – just that I have a connection. </rant>
Also, I wonder why nobody has made a plugin to the service for the Windows Media Center. Maybe if I get some spare time this season, I may make a few phone calls and see if I can prototype something. Until then, I just close the MCE application and launch Internet Explorer in full-screen mode.
All that said, I have to pause and admire that in 10 short years, I went from not being able to watch over 60% of my favorite team’s games each season to being able to watch every game from the comfort of my living room. I wonder what another 10 years will bring…