Sep 13, 2011

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NFL Sunday Ticket: A Chair in the Sky?

NFL Sunday Ticket: A Chair in the Sky?

By now, you’ve probably read the labor day article “In Gaming, Everything Is Amazing, But No One Is Happy,” inspired by the hilarious bit by comedian Louis CK on Conan O’Brien, “Everything’s Amazing, and Nobody’s Happy.” In the Ars Technica piece, Ben Kuchera argues that gaming has never been better, yet gamers are never satisfied, and we should be more appreciative and complain less.  We can experience things we’ve never experience before, things we may never have even thought possible. As Louis CK jokes in his act, people might complain about losing WiFi on an airplane (something most airplanes don’t even offer), when what we should really marvel at is the fact that when we fly, we are literally sitting on a chair in the sky.  In other words, we should be happy enough at the marvels that we get to experience due to technology every day and not be so quick to complain about things that may not have even been possible a few weeks, let alone years, ago.

Of course, Ben Kuchera’s article was quickly followed by a round of others, some defending the complainers, because if everyone kept their mouth shut, nothing amazing would ever happen.  We should always strive for better, right?

Sports fans and PS3 owners were delighted when, a few weeks ago, DirecTV announced a partnership with Sony to allow gamers to stream NFL Sunday Ticket through their PS3s, even if they didn’t subscribe to the satellite service. While the service isn’t cheap ($340 for the season if you don’t have DirecTV already), the ability for NFL fans to watch their favorite team each week regardless of where they live, not to mention other perks such as the Red Zone Channel, stats, highlights, and more, made many gamers willing to pony up the $85 per month for four months.  Sunday arrived, the first football Sunday of the season, and gamers across the country gathered around their TVs to experience what their hard-earned money had purchased them.

Only to be disappointed.

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Many were faced with an error message, stating that videos couldn’t be displayed at this time.  Those who were able to get the stream to play found it to be choppy, very poor quality, and basically unwatchable. These problems apparently affected both PS3 users as well as those with DirecTV satellite service. As a result, DirecTV and PlayStation were flooded with calls, and gamers and sports fans stormed the internet with angry tweets, wondering when it would be working, many demanding a refund. As far as I know, DirecTV never did get it working. Yes. We were one of those households who decided to spring for the NFL Sunday Ticket, hoping to watch our favorite teams, only to be disappointed when the system didn’t work.  However, PlayStation did post via Twitter that they planned on refunding $25 to all PS3 owners as a consolation for not being able to use it this week.  Let’s hope that things are smoother for Week 2.

What does this have to do with everything being amazing and no one being happy? Obviously, it sucks to pay a lot of money ($340) and not get what you paid for.  I’m not saying people don’t have a right to complain, but I think this is a case of DirecTV biting off a bit more than they could chew: in addition to the thousands of PS3s trying to stream these NFL games, DirecTV had also extended the option free to their subscribers, meaning even more users were trying to access these games. All at the same time. Many people were angry that DirecTV didn’t make sure everything was working before this Sunday, but how could they? I’m sure they tested it, but without having several live games to stream and thousands of users all trying to access it at once, how could they possibly know if they had the capacity to deal with it all until it happened? Perhaps they should have better anticipated the demand and been better prepared, but hindsight is 20/20, right?

My point here is: did it suck that we weren’t able to access the feature we paid for this Sunday? Yes.  It did.  But in some ways, this is a chair in the sky, to apply Louis CK’s analogy.  The fact that PS3 (and 360) owners can now use their console to stream movies, TV shows, and even live sports without having to pay for cable or satellite is awesome, and something we probably never could have imagined even a few years ago. The fact that NFL Sunday Ticket is even possible on my PS3 is amazing.  The $25 refund Sony has promised PS3 owners also helps.  Here’s hoping we’ll see it working for next Sunday, and to even more amazing things in the future.