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No HD for Strasburg: Pay TV as usual

Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg's dazzling debut last night looked a little less dazzling to many Washington-area viewers.

Where the 21-year-old rookie's 14-strikeout performance represented the future, Verizon Fios and Dish Network's standard-definition broadcasts represented the past--the same old channel-bundle system that forces viewers to pay for channels they don't like while sometimes failing to provide the content they want. In this case, the desired content was a high-definition feed of the Nats' 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, not the lower-resolution version served up by those two companies.

The immediate blame for that falls on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network -- the regional firm owned in part by the Nationals but mostly by the Baltimore Orioles--that chose to reserve its primary channel for a Yankees-Orioles game that nobody will remember two months from now. (O's fans probably want to forget that 12-7 beatdown already.)

But Verizon paid to carry both MASN channels and then failed to clear space on its Fios TV system for the high-definition version of MASN2--yet still manages to carry HD versions of the QVC and HSN home-shopping channels. Dish, meanwhile, also signed up for MASN but has yet to transmit a single game in HD--perhaps because the necessary bandwidth had already been assigned to such fare as the Weather Channel HD and HLN (the former Headline News) HD.

(Comcast, Cox, DirecTV and RSN all provide both MASN channels in high-def. And all of these TV services, plus Verizon and Dish, offer the high-def version of the other big regional sports network, Comcast SportsNet.)

My far more productive colleague Dan Steinberg noted this problem last week, and readers were less than amused. Nor was the Dish-subscribing friend at whose house I watched the game.

Tuesday afternoon, Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell e-mailed that MASN2 HD "is one of the channels we're looking to add to the FiOS TV lineup soon." How soon--July 4, the All-Star break, the September call-ups? Mitchell wouldn't say. Dish Network spokeswoman Francie Bauer did not reply to an e-mail.

But viewers shouldn't have to wait for these corporate games to settle out. MASN could follow the example of far too few other sports networks and allow local viewers with sufficient bandwidth to pay to watch games online. (Note that since I canceled my TV subscription last fall, this would be my preferred solution.) TV providers, meanwhile, could try to pay more attention to what viewers want--or they could let viewers vote with their credit cards by subscribing to certain channels and declining to pay for others, a feasible option on all-digital TV systems.

Until either of those things happens, the availability of your favorite channels in HD will remain a fine-print gotcha, as if shopping for TV service wasn't confusing enough. After you've compared channel bundles, their prices, their prices with and without Internet access and/or phone service, digital-video-recorder service fees, any DVR purchase costs, duration of new-customer discounts, odds of your ability to extend new-customer discounts, all of the above costs after those initial discounts expire--yes, you need to add yet another cell to your TV-service-choices spreadsheet.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 9, 2010; 9:53 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Gripes , TV  
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Comments

I have FIOS and I was one of the folks watching the little picture and tinny sound on my nice HD TV......hubby was mad too but developed a magnanimous point of view during the game...he decided he was just glad he could watch it at all.

Posted by: tbva | June 9, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Simply FINDING MASN2 on Fios is a challenge. Channel 1? Seriously? Why not at least TRY to put it near the other sports channels - ESPN (and it stepchildren), CSN and MASN are in the 70s.

I agree that some of the HD content is dubious - who really needs QVC or HSN in HD? I would kill to have more flexibility in my programming choices, but I am willing to bet that it would cost more, not less, in the long run. One thing that I would like to see is the ability to drop an SD channel if there is an HD option. I rarely watch anything in SD on my 55" plasma unless, like last night, it is my only option.

Posted by: TheOneWhoHurtsMost | June 9, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The villains here are FIOS and Dish, plain and simple. MASN has made MASN2 HD available to everyone, and if FIOS or Dish, do not pick it up, well, they're the ones to blame.

The MASN and MASN2 schedules were developed months ago and a mid-week Nats-Pirates tilt could hardly be predicted to have such impact when the MASN schedules were planned.

And another thing: MLB could have waived the blackout of MLB Network so that FIOS subscribers could have at least seen the game in HD...but then you're not protecting the local networks.

It's just a crappy situation for FIOS and Dish subscribers, and the best thing they can do is switch providers.

Posted by: AnnandaleAnnie | June 9, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I just moved from Comcast to FiOS last month and was surprised that FiOS does not offer both MASN and MASN2 in HD. I forgot about the blackout on MLB Network and started my DVR to record on that channel since I would not be home from work on time. Then I turn it on and see the Mets game, then it hit me about the blackout. So I got to the MASN HD channel thinking the game would be there, no it's the Orioles. So I had to watch in SD. I am very happy with FiOS so far except for them not having both MASN channels in HD. There are about 25 HD channels that I would give up to get it. And the quote about them not having room for it is bunk, but I don't think this is a MASN problem, they broadcast both channels in HD.

Posted by: jtsw | June 9, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

After I left the Nats game and switched over to the Yanks-Os I noticed that the video/sound was out of synch; while Os were at bat, I watched the ball land in the catcher's mitt and heard the ball pop about 1 second later. Conversely while the Yanks were at bat I saw the bat hit the ball and heard the crack of the bat 1 second later. Being a DirecTV/Extra Innings subscriber in NC I am doomed to watching any Nats or Os game on MASN because though I am hundreds of miles away I am considered in MASN's home area. Fortunately I get both MASN channels in crystal clear HD, unfortunately I also get the lousy audio.
Just be grateful that you did not have to endure watching an entire game with an out of sync MASNHD broadcast.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | June 9, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Is this really the fault of FIOS (said as a FIOS subscriber who couldn't watch the game in HD last night)? Bandwidth on most systems is still something that has to be managed (especially on Dish), and is the 4 3-hour games a week (and espnnews replays the rest of the time) really worth wasting bandwidth on? Yeah, I may not like HSN or weTV or whatever other HD channels I have, but someone does, and at least they provide real programming for more than 3 overflow games a week.

Posted by: JJones-CapitalWeatherGang | June 9, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I thought FIOS was supposed to have all sorts of capacity? How can they not have 50% of the local sports network in HD?

BTW, doesn't HSN pay cable cos to carry their channels? Might explain why there's HD HSN.

Posted by: ah___ | June 9, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I must be crazy, but I thought HD had been the standard in this country since last year. If we had had pay tv 50 years ago they would have been charging extra for color.

Posted by: posttoastie1 | June 9, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that no DC baseball fans cared enough to protest the lack of HD until June.

Posted by: Corn_Laden | June 9, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

@ah___: Yes, the home-shopping networks kick back some money to the TV providers. In that sense, the multichannel-TV market is just like--and as fundamentally broken--as the market for bundled software on Windows PCs. In both cases, junk shows up on your screen because some other company anted up enough cash for that placement.

@Corn_Laden: Not so. I take it you didn't catch this Feb. 2008 post here?

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | June 9, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Yes Rob,finding (&remembering) the 25 or so, HD channels I may actually watch can be annoying with the way Comcast duplicates, moves, and buries HD Channels, with the QVC's & kids-type channels; 200's?, 700's? 800's? I'm glad the oligopoly can justify the $200/month bill.Who knows, but maybe one day, i'll give up sports....

Posted by: Hattrik | June 9, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Update: FIOSTV Tweeter says by Friday he should be able to say something other than "soon" re MASN2 in HD.

Like what? I wonder if he'll start saying "real soon" now.

Posted by: prokaryote | June 9, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Boy, some days I don't feel so bad about having plain old free TV. I miss the sports but I don't have the time to watch it every day anyway. Maybe after the kids grow up...

Posted by: naaqsso2 | June 9, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

posttoastie1, last year the standard became digital, but not HD. As for why this wasn't noticed until now, the reason for me is that up until a few series ago, all the Nats games I was able to catch on TV were on MASN, so HD was available. It's only recently that the majority of their games moved over to MASN2.

Posted by: homer6 | June 9, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Until we get real competition between the providers & our local government quit making sweetheart monopoky deals with the providers, we will always be short changed & over charged.

Posted by: Rocc00 | June 10, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

I have DirecTV and MASN2 wasn't in HD at the start of the game.

I watched on channel 728 in std def, but during a commercial turned back to this 641-1 channel that was supposed to be HD after the 3rd inning.

By then, it had blossomed into HD.

I think Angelos and his O's-first deal with any broadcaster is the true villain here.

Dammit I wish the Redskins front office had made the same deal with Baltimore before allowing them to have a football team again.

Posted by: Georgetwoner | June 10, 2010 2:41 AM | Report abuse

I suspect that since MASN is not a national channel, DISH is focused on national HD at present. CSN is regional so has a wider audience and has part-time HD content. Each consumer obviously has to decide which provider they want. For many of us satellite is the only option, and then it becomes a choice driven by what you watch regularly, what you want to pay, and how good the customer service is. DISH has NFL RedZone in HD, Direct has NFL Sunday ticket, and on an on. It would be nice to pick your own channels, but we would be unhappy with the cost for that - the - providers would slice and dice the price structure and we would wind up paying more than we already do. Personally during NFL season I love Red Zone, and can't afford NFL Sunday ticket, so I go with DISH.

Posted by: bfjam | June 10, 2010 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I listened to the game on the radio - my brain has infinite resolution! ;)

Posted by: astronomer | June 10, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I am disappointed with FIOS for not finding a way to show the game in HD. My disappointment extends to MLB which chose to shows the Mets and not the Nats. I am not disappointed in MASN since I know it exists to promote the Baltimore team. I am sure that more people watched the Nats game on FIOS channel 1 then watched the Baltimore team against the Yankees on MASN HD. That is a trend that should continue. Perhaps this will lead more of us to ditch the TV and show up at the stadium?

Posted by: moralcompass1 | June 10, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

@bfjam If Dish's HD strategy is to focus on "national" HD channels, they're excuting it extremely poorly. Most of the sports package isn't in HD and those channels look worse than SD ever did when I had DirecTV. The quality was so poor on some basketball games I tried to watch on some of the Sports Package channels that it looked like the broadcasts were straight out of the 1970's.

I'm moving in December and even though I'll have to pay the prorated ETF, I'm dumping Dish for DirecTV. Dish's whole channel/pricing strategy isn't consumer friendly in the first place. I pay over $60/mo and no MSNBC? I couldn't watch most of the Olympic hockey because of that bit of stupidity. No TMC? No AMC? These are all channels offered by DirecTV in packages about the same price I'm paying Dish, yet Dish can't see fit to offer them unless you pay them significantly more money per month.

Posted by: CJMARTIN04 | June 10, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

It does start with MASN. They had a month's notice to switch these games but again took advantage to push the Nat's down.

But, here's the real tragedy, the Lerners.

If they had any fortitude, they'd of told Angelos where to put his MASN deal long ago.

Shows what kind of owners we're stuck with down here. Maybe a George S type will buy the team at some point and push Baltimore deeper into the past. DC would be more of a baseball town if we had owners who really cared about them.

Posted by: tslats | June 10, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

It is unforgivable for FiOS not to carry MASN2HD in the Washington area. With only the exceptions of some very small community cable providers and Dish, EVERYBODY ELSE in the Washington area, even the EXTENDED Washington area, carries it but FiOS.

I know it isn't a bandwidth issue. Furthermore, Verizon just announced that they were pulling four HD channels out of their lineups, the western feeds of some Showtime and Movie Channel stations, from their paid tiers, which would have freed up whatever necessary bandwidth was required -- BUT NONE WAS REQUIRED. FiOS has available bandwidth up the wazoo.

Unfortunately, many of us, in order to take advantage of special deals for Verizon FiOS's excessively expensive services, have gotten ourselves locked in for a year or two. Because I am one of those I am unable to do what I might have wanted to do before Tuesday's game -- pull FiOS in favor of DirecTV or Comcast (both of which have serious and debilitating issues of their own, by the way).

But it was Peter Angelos's MASN that has set up the schedule the way it has. Earlier this year we got most Nats' games on MASN, for which Verizon DOES carry the HD channel on 577, so it wasn't much of an issue. Furthermore, some of the games that were broadcast on MASN2, which Verizon carries for Nats' games only on channel 1, were also broadcast on CW, which Verizon carries in high definition on channel 503 and does not black out during Nats' games. Verizon customers will be able to watch Sunday's game in HD on channel 503, which should be Strasburg's next outing.

But for the past three weeks or so, MASN seems to have "stabilized," broadcasting all Orioles games on MASN and all Nats' games on MASN2 unless the Orioles have an off day. For Verizon customers, this really blows, especially because channel 1's SD feed seems actually to be broadcast in SUBstandard definition. You can hardly even read the numbers on the players' backs, and I have a nice 52" Sony.

I wonder what this Twitter-based "Friday Revelation" will be. I have found that, in the world of cable and wireless communication, the word "soon" has a meaning similar to what my Hispanic home rebuilding contractor meant when he would say "tomorrow," something akin to "manana," which means "at some unspecified point in the future."

I hope this isn't a case of the sentiment we Nats' fans (dating back to our days as Senators' fans all the way into the early 1930s) used to express so often: "Wait 'til next year."

Posted by: FergusonFoont | June 10, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

when I lived in Canada for two years I had the option of my choice of 20 channels for $25/mo (and that was looneys, so about $19 US). This I found acceptable and would today. For me $60/mo for basic digital is *not* acceptable as I have 0 interest in hundreds of the channels offered. Consequently, like Rob, I'm no longer a subscriber. I do occasionally miss seeing a program available only on cable but only rarely. Vote with your pocketbook, folks. The TV providers are clearly all totally deaf, but I'm sure their eyesight is good enough to see their balance sheets.

Posted by: rsh43 | June 10, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Guess the hundreds of million$ of pubic subsidies aren't enough to let the public get a good view of the game.

Posted by: Garak | June 10, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Ahh. To have a plethora of choice in your TV service providers.
Can we have that problem outside a major city?

Posted by: camiolo | June 10, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I think MASN is more to blame. Why should FiOS be required to carry 2 MASN channels at all? How much audience is there on a regular basis for MASN2? This was one game. I suppose every time this guy pitches there will be higher interest. But what about their other stinker games? Remember the Nats had pathetically low TV ratings last season. Why should FiOS waste its bandwidth on 2 HD channels from this outfit? Let MASN figure out which game should be in HD on any given night and put that on their HD channel.

Posted by: fedssocr | June 10, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I don't have an HD TV to begin with, so I was more than happy just to watch it on the standard MASN 2. That picture is about 100 clearer than the one I grew up with, and I don't really need to count the pimples on a player's face. Sometimes I think we're getting a bit spoiled in our demand for absolute picture perfection.

But I agree with TheOneWhoHurtsMost above about the location of MASN 2 on FIOS. Channel 1? Why isn't it next to MASN 1 at channel 77? Or at least why couldn't they note where the Nats game was on the MASN 1 program guide? I only discovered it was on channel 1 about ten minutes before the game started, and that was only by doing a google search out of desperation.

FIOS also has a problem with their baseball ExtraInnings package, where if a game starts at 7:07 they often don't display the channel information for the game until it actually begins, rather than all during the day. DirecTV is much better about this.

OTOH if you have any growing trees near your house, you won't get any picture at all on any satellite system once the leaves start to grow and there are ten drops of rain. At least with FIOS you know you'll never see that dreaded "Searching for satellite signal---please stand by" message again.

Posted by: andym108 | June 10, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Channel 844 on Comcast in Alexandria for MASN2HD.

Posted by: NikolasM | June 10, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I have MASN2, so I was happy, happy, happy. Couldn't freaking believe the balls on those guys for putting the Yanks/O's on the "primary" MASN station. That's a crime against baseball, or something. Feels like the work of Pete Angelos, maybe?

Posted by: jr_cville | June 10, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I cheer for an out of town team (the Astros) so I don't bother with TV at all - MLB.TV is great for me. On my 24" iMac, with FIOS, and the Premium package, I get a great picture -- and I can choose which broadcast (home or away) I want to see. However, that doesn't work if you want to watch your home team games live, due to blackout restrictions. When the Nats were down in Houston, I was blacked out of watching the game on MLB.TV (even though I don't care about the local team), so I had to watch the MASN broadcast. I couldn't stand to listen to them, though, so I muted the TV and turned on the Astros radio broadcast on my laptop. MLB does allow you to listen to the radio broadcast live, even for "local" games, and you can choose home or away or even alternate (general Spanish language) broadcasts. In general, I much prefer MLB.TV to depending on television. I've had an MLB.TV subscription for 6 years and the improvement in technology has been fantastic. Well worth the hundred bucks I pay. And, no, I don't have any financial interest in MLB. Just a fanatic for my childhood team, as you can see from my website/blog at http://www.AstrosFaninExile.com. Have to say one thing, though - even if it had been the Astros here for that Strasburg debut, I would have had to cheer for the Nats - just that one time.

Posted by: AstrosFanInExile | June 10, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Dish Network is the worst of the bunch.. They offer ZERO full time HD RSN's. All RSN's such as MASN and MASN2 are full time national channels meaning anyone can subscribe to them. They are only blacked out for games, where the leagues such as MLB, NHL, NBA block out games to out of market subscribers unless you sub to their season package.

With dish your lucky if your local game is on in HD and even then its the luck of the draw. They refuse to fix this issue as dish wants to do things cheaply. Also with Dish Network Bandwidth is not an issue as they have over 6 satellite locations right now! They use a two location system, meaning programming is duplicated on all 3 birds. (you can point your dish to two different parts of the sky and get the same programming with the right setup. Both setups have more than enough bandwidth available right now to cover all national regional sport networks.

Posted by: dishguy | June 11, 2010 1:38 AM | Report abuse

"But, here's the real tragedy, the Lerners.

If they had any fortitude, they'd of told Angelos where to put his MASN deal long ago.

Shows what kind of owners we're stuck with down here. Maybe a George S type will buy the team at some point and push Baltimore deeper into the past. DC would be more of a baseball town if we had owners who really cared about them."

Nice try, but: No, no, no, no, no. The TV deal was made with the Nats' previous owners (Major League Baseball). Current ownership had/has no say in the terms of the deal.

Posted by: km352 | June 11, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Verizon FIOS pulls the same stunt in the winter with CSN. When the caps and the wiz are playing at the same time, one of the games is shown on csn2, which Verizon shows in glorious lo-def on channel 1. Verizon must make more money on shopping channels than on sports channels. It's a really disappointing service for DC sports fans.

Posted by: natsstats | June 11, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

FiOS channel 1 is not only not in HD, it's below SD. The sound is horrendous and you have to blast the volume just to hear it. The image looks hazy. And the stupid Verizon logo blocks the MASN scoreboard.

Posted by: Yankeesfan1 | June 13, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

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