Today the Portland Trail Blazers announced that they will offer a limited schedule of games to their online audience through the miracle of streaming video. Before you heave a huge sigh of relief, it's pretty clear that this is a baby step in the process of making games available. To wit:
Only 15 games will be offered, all of which will already be shown on KGW. You can click on the link above for the specific games in question. Why only KGW games? The Blazers could negotiate a contract to do so. They have not reached a deal with Comcast Sports Net. They offer this carrot, however:
At this point, the Blazers are in direct discussions with Comcast on a partnership that would bring the entire CSN NW cable package online. The time frame to work out those logistics is November/December. The expectation is that by the first of the calendar year, we would be able to provide those games online in partnership with Comcast.
Only viewers within a 150-mile radius of Portland will be able to view the games. This is due to NBA regulations. However viewers outside that radius already have the option of watching all Blazer games on NBA League Pass Broadband.
Games are not archived and must be viewed live. They cannot be viewed on a mobile phone.
As anyone who's ever streamed anything online knows, technical issues are inherent in the process. Most viewers will not be able to determine whether Shaq is posting in the lane or the video player is buffering. They look eerily the same.
Combined this reduces the utility of the service to a particular group: those who live within 150 miles of Portland, who do not receive KGW, who are interested in the specific games offered, and who are at a reasonably competent computer during the game itself. Again...baby steps. A very small baby. Wearing bronzed shoes. Walking on tar paper. On Jupiter. But it's something.
If you're one of those folks in that particular group and have a good enough computer and reliable internet service you get to see 15 Blazer games you wouldn't have otherwise. They're also high-def, being on a computer and all.
Also the Blazers themselves advance the possibility of value-added material during games. No doubt this will be limited at first but one can easily forecast a time when, in addition to the regular broadcast team, you could interact with online commentators, get comprehensive stat updates, and chat live. This is probably the most exciting potential for the project.
As you can see, the limitations far outweigh the benefits at this juncture. The service will only become viable if and when the team cuts a deal with Comcast for the remaining games. At that point it becomes a much-needed addition to the Blazer Broadcasting arsenal...imperfect, but at least an opportunity for some to catch games they otherwise are shut out of.
The service also costs money, of course. The price is $3.99 per game or $39.99 for the entire package. That's not horrible on the face of it. At one point in my life when I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota and had no access to cable or satellite I would have eagerly scraped together forty bucks to see fifteen Blazer games. If you live in Zigzag or something and you're a rabid Blazer fan that's not a bad deal. However it's still a crummy deal compared to every other way of watching. KGW is free. NBA League Pass Broadband is $90 for the standard model and $140 for the premium but you get every game of the season plus every other game around the league for that price. League Pass on the dish runs around $160 for just about every game played around the league as well, including Portland's if you're outside the blackout area. Of course factoring in the monthly dish subscription brings the value down, but if you're paying for some sort of cable/satellite already it's a no-brainer. Any way you slice it you're paying 1/2 to 1/4 of the price for a little over 18% of the games through a shaky medium.
All in all, it's probably best to take this for what it is: a goodwill offer by the team showing they take the concerns of fans at least semi-seriously and are working to provide coverage for those who lack it. If the technology keeps improving, the restrictions ease, and the Blazers find creative and interesting ways to enhance coverage through this particular medium they may one day be seen as pioneers. It's perfectly possible that everybody in 2036 who is watching the halftime ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of Brandon Roy's first championship will be doing so online or via wireless connection. There's no reason to be an early adopter, though. You've got a friend who will let you watch KGW at his house if you split a $7.00 six pack of beer with him. Technically that's only $3.50 in expenses and you get three beers out of it too. That's reason enough to make the drive from Rickreall into Salem on game night.