Last year we gave you a heads-up about the poor quality of NBA League Pass Broadband, the NBA's shady auto-renew system for its online video offering, and the league's non-existent customer service. Has the league finally gotten its act together for this season's edition? After several weeks of attempting to use the service, we can conclusively answer: nope.
It's slightly improved
To its credit, the NBA has attempted to respond to the criticisms in past years. For the first time, viewers can choose between home or away broadcast feeds, and national broadcasts are no longer blacked out in the archive. The national games in particular are a huge deal, because even if you can't watch them live, the national games have many of the best matchups, and being blacked out in perpetuity was just the dumbest thing.
But it still sucks
The biggest knock against LPBB is that, often, it simply doesn't work. In fact, LPBB has somehow managed to get worse at letting subscribers watch games live, in both availability and reliability.
The web-based player's streams regularly freeze and require reloading. This happens particularly often when watching in picture-in-picture mode, but with regularity no matter what you're doing. The player itself continues to lack even basic functions MLB.tv and NHL GameCenter have had for years. Both of those services have the ability to navigate through a game to find particular plays; LPBB has a slider that will fling you off some random amount of time into the past or present—or more likely just freeze your feed and force you to reload. (It's even more infuriating when the skip-back-10-seconds button does this, and it does, constantly.) And don't get us started on why the entire navigation bar goes away when you bring up the Games interface.
The permanent blackouts of your local market remain. This means that, despite paying for the NBA's service, you're still unable to watch your home team play live if you don't have cable or satellite—at which point, you would would likely not have League Pass Broadband. This remains insane, as LPBB is conceived in large part for fans who don't have cable but want to watch the NBA. Blacking out every game from the team (or teams, if you live in a market with more than one) most users want to see is idiotic. And even if you have cable, and just want an archive of your home team's games, you'll have to torrent them or buy a fleet of TiVos and record them yourself.
Unlike MLB, the NHL, and MLS, the NBA separates broadband from mobile. This is a very special brand of stupid. It means, if you do not have cable, but want to be able to watch NBA games on both your computer and your phone, even on Wi-Fi, you've got to buy both packages separately... which add up to $5 less than buying the TV package that includes all three.
All this, and somehow the NBA has the nerve to raise the price for LPBB. For the Premium full-season package you'll pay $200, up from $180 last year. Oh, and if you select the "Five Easy Installments" plan, it's $225, because fuck you. (The price for the five-team package is $140/$155.)
Oh, and it just straight up doesn't work correctly (or at all) on a bunch of devices it's supposed to work with. Part of this is because, quietly, League Pass suggests you shouldn't use LPBB with wireless-only devices. (This probably implies inferior caching technology on their end, but that's another story.) For you, this means common devices like Apple TV and Roku (and, um, laptops that aren't plugged into Ethernet) will suffer many, many frozen streams. That is, if the streams work at all. Many users of the Roku set-top box who expected the product to "work" as it has in previous years found the following message upon attempting to log into the service this season:
I own four Roku boxes, and all four are incompatible with the new version of NBA Game Time. (MLB, NHL, and MLS packages continue to be rock-solid on Roku.) Maybe that's for the best, as Roku forums are flooded with complaints about this season's edition, and attempting to watch live games last year mostly resulted in things like this:
On the other hand, the NBA has added a PS3 app. It's fairly spartan and violates pretty much every UI guideline from Sony, but it works.
Wait, no, it doesn't. Either broadcasts look like this:
Or—somehow even more often than with other devices—it just won't load at all. I have yet to successfully watch an entire live game this season on the PS3. Apple TV users have been tweeting at us all season about issues on that platform, too, which isn't surprising given how many problems plagued that app in previous years.
So don't buy it—unless you just have to
The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, there's a better solution already on the market for the NBA. International NBA League Pass Broadband is a separate product offered by a separate company, and most of the above has never applied to it. We'd suggest the NBA/Turner cut ties with their current system, and move everyone to the international brand.
Or you could go the other way and just get the TV package. For a few pennies more, you can subscribe to the televised version of NBA League Pass and get the broadband and mobile versions along with it. Unless you're a cable-cutter, there's zero reason to buy NBA League Pass Broadband on its own; you're missing out on the mobile package, after all. If you are a cable cutter and want to watch the NBA, though? Well, you're screwed. You may as well just jump on a pirated stream, because while the quality will suck, it'll probably be more reliable than the LPBB feed. Whatever you do, you should let League Pass know you're not happy about it.
A word from the people
Just for the hell of it, here are some things people on Twitter are saying about NBA League Pass Broadband: