NBC clarifies ‘Old Mac’ problems for Sunday Night Football streaming: Newer OS required

If you are still wondering why you can’t see NBC’s streaming broadcast of its Sunday Night Football games on your Mac, I now have an answer: It’s because you’re running an older operating system, older than Mac OS version 10.7.5.

After a special-to-MSR telephone confab with some technical folks on NBC’s staff last week we quickly rooted out why I was able to see the banners and home page of the Sunday Night online broadcasts but not the live video player: According to the NBC folks, my older iMac and its 10.6.8 version of MacOS isn’t technically up to snuff for the special player NBC is using for the Sunday night show.

New error message shown by NBC's Sunday Night Football online to older Mac users. Credit: NBC.

New error message shown by NBC’s Sunday Night Football online to older Mac users. Credit: NBC.

Mind you, my not-that-old desktop does just fine showing every other NBC online offering, including the recent live broadcasts of the America’s Cup sailboat races, or the London Olympics. And for those I can use the browser of my choice, usually Chrome and sometimes Firefox. But because of the NFL’s recent deal with Microsoft, NBC is forced to use a different video player for its Sunday Night Football broadcasts. Though they aren’t completely blocked for Mac users who want to watch, they must have a machine with MacOS 10.7.5 or higher, and can only use the Safari browser. I will spare you the HTML5-related details why this is so, to only say that if you have a Mac and you want to watch SNF online, you need to upgrade your OS, make sure you have Safari 6.0.5 or higher, and turn off any ad-blocking utilities.

Is it worth the pain for you to upgrade your OS? I have no idea how you’d exactly go about doing so, I’ve looked at a few online tutorials but really it’s just not worth it for me (I think there is also a $19.99 charge from Apple for the software). I don’t blame NBC here, I actually can’t praise them enough for marshaling some pretty impressive resources to find the root of the problem for our humble little outlet and our devoted, passionate readers. After our inquiries, NBC also started showing the error message above to users of older Mac platforms, so they wouldn’t wander in the dark questioning their own sanity, like I did for the first few weeks of the season.

Instead I point the finger at the Shield and at Microsoft, for forging some deal that alienates some users solely so that the NFL can spend some more Microsoft cash, and so Microsoft can strike a blow against Apple that it can’t do in open competition. Bravo. Fan first, you know.

If I may editorialize a bit, I would say that the NFL gets away with cutting these bad-for-fan deals (like the exclusive deal with Verizon for NFL Mobile) because it’s so big and powerful that it can. What other entertainment outlet would cut a deal that would only allow 1/3 of the U.S. mobile phone customer base to watch their product? And what about when that service goes kablooey and there’s nobody explaining why? And the Microsoft deal, which cuts off older Mac customers from Sunday night football now and who knows what else in the future, is just another greed-driven strategic ploy that only benefits the NFL and Microsoft, and does nothing for fans.

It will be interesting to see what happens as the NFL moves more toward an MLB-type offering for online video and highlights, a move that we foresee even though we don’t have any solid evidence of it yet. Will the NFL cut deals to restrict access to selected hardware or software platforms? Is this a return to the bad old days of browser cutoffs? Is there a Net Neutrality argument in here somewhere?

Extreme thoughts, maybe, but who would have thought that in 2013 we’d see an entertainment outlet as popular as the NFL limit the capabilities of one technological platform versus another simply because it was paid to do so? And not just once, but several times? Aren’t we paying enough for football as it is? Or should we just get used to paying more, because we have no choice and apparently no seat at the table?

NBC’s Sunday Night Football Fails Continue for Mac Users; UPDATE: Problem Diagnosed

UPDATE, 9/30: After a quick call with NBC’s tech folks Monday the problem was discovered: Due to new HTML5 code NBC is using that is specific to its Sunday Night Football broadcasts, Mac users need to have MacOS version 10.7 or higher installed to see the player. Like many users who haven’t been able to see the Sunday Night online broadcasts, my machine is running Mac OS 10.6.8. There is no workaround, so to watch Sunday Night Football on a Mac you will need to upgrade your OS, which costs $19.99. Here is a link to Apple support spelling out the details, if anyone has done this recently and wants to share the steps, send me an email and I will print it in a separate blog post.

Until someone explains to us why this is happening, we’re going to keep reporting that it appears that online streaming of NBC’s Sunday Night Football isn’t working for a lot of people with Apple Macintosh computers.

Just teasing! The program never really begins.

Just teasing! The program never really begins.

An NBC spokesperson this week had promised to put us in touch with someone from their technical team, but we never got another message back, so another Sunday night we are stuck without football on our computer. What’s even more ironic tonight is that for the first time some video did appear — but it was just an ad for Google Chrome, which of course, NBC doesn’t support this football season if you are a Mac user. You need to use Safari. But for us and several folks commenting to our site, it still isn’t working. For me, the Google ad played and then the screen went back to black.

Instead of Sunday night football, this is what I see. Anyone else having these problems? Add a comment, maybe we can get NBC to realize something ain't right.

Instead of Sunday night football, this is what I see. Anyone else having these problems? Add a comment, maybe we can get NBC to realize something ain’t right.

At first I thought there might be some error on my end but I checked my configurations with the FAQs on the NBC site and my machine is up to speed. Plus, I am able to watch plenty of non-NFL coverage, including the excellent coverage of the final race of the America’s Cup. Great stuff, live on my computer. But for some reason the NFL broadcasts aren’t working.

I’m going to lay the blame here at the feet of Microsoft, since it is apparently the Microsoft-NFL deal that is responsible for the disabling of Macintosh computers. Didn’t Microsoft once lose an antitrust suit designed in part to keep it from using its economic might to squash competing technologies? Someone get me Google’s legal team on the line.

Arrgh, now we're back to the super fail screen.

Arrgh, now we’re back to the super fail screen.

Despite Macintosh Issues, NBC Records Record Audiences for Sunday Night Football Online Streams

Even though Macintosh users are now second-class citizens when it comes to watching NFL games online, NBC this season has still racked up record numbers of online streams of live action, according to NBC.

The NFL’s season opening game, carried by NBC on Thursday Sept. 5, accounted for more than 20 million minutes of online streaming, making it the biggest-ever online sports event that wasn’t a Super Bowl or Olympics, according to NBC. And this past Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks racked up another 18 million-plus online minutes, making it the new #2 such online event (surpassing the Week 1 Sunday night show, which totaled nearly 12 million online minutes, according to NBC).

“It’s safe to say we’re definitely seeing a significant increase in online viewing,” said an NBC spokesperson, who spoke with us via phone on Tuesday.

In regards to the issues we (and some of our readers) had in accessing the live game streams from Macintosh computers, NBC had this official response:

“We [NBC] have the ability to stream our linear Sunday Night Football coverage to all desktops, and to tablets through the browser. However, for the 2013 season, we do not have the ability to stream our enriched package, which includes alternate camera angles, to non-Microsoft operating systems.”

Why are Mac platforms second-class citizens this year? It’s an educated guess, but it can probably be traced to the NFL’s deal with Microsoft made earlier this year, though we have no official confirmation of that being the reason. You make the call. What does that mean for Mac users? On Sunday night online, only Windows devices will have access to the “enhanced” online features, including multiple camera angles and social media links. Mac users should still be able to view live action, but only using Safari browsers — Chrome or Firefox won’t work.

So why do some Mac users see no video at all? In my case, I suspect that my reluctance to upgrade my desktop OS or an older version of Safari (which I only use sparingly) is behind my inability to see live video. While some readers said that de-installing Safari AdBlocker allowed them to see live video, others were like me, and couldn’t get the stream to work at all. The NBC spokesperson said they aren’t seeing or hearing about any widespread problems; readers who still have problems next week Sunday, please let us know!

It’s possible that all the problems of favored or shunned client platforms could become a thing of the past in the short-term future, when new NFL TV contracts kick in next year. Part of the problems are simply that technology is moving faster than TV rights contracts — the last time the NFL signed TV deals, tablets didn’t exist at all, so there was no legal language spelling out who could and who couldn’t use them to access live action. Verizon’s NFL Mobile package suffers from similar restrictions, with viewers able to only use cellphones and not tablets via a cellular connection to view live action via the NFL Mobile app. It’s a mess right now, and viewers are paying the price in more ways than one.

What is clear is that many more viewers see online as just another method to access content they have already paid for, either via a cable contract or a cellular or a satellite deal. The onus, I think, is on the league and its content partners to take better care of its customers, who are just trying to watch their favorite sport. They shouldn’t have to both pay and experience the pain of little or no support.

Sunday Sermon: More Support and Execution Needed for Mobile Sports Apps

So far this NFL season, we’ve had two weeks and two big failures on the mobile football-viewing application front. For the opener there was the (still unexplained) meltdown of Verizon Wireless’ NFL Mobile app, a snafu that probably caused millions to miss live coverage that they had paid for on their phones.

This weekend, we’re still not sure of the extent of the problem (or whether it was something NBC knew about) but I was unable to view NBC’s Sunday Night Football game on the web, even though as a Comcast subscriber and a Mac user NBC’s own site tells me that I can. Attempts to watch in Chrome or Firefox met with error messages pointing me to Safari. And while some of our readers said that disabling an ad-blocking extension allowed them to use Safari to watch SNF online, even using Safari I wasn’t able to connect and neither were other readers. The bigger question is, why, in 2013, is a major network restricting access to different browsers and OSes? Aren’t we past all that?

Apparently not. The bigger problem, I think, is that there’s too much money and attention being spent promoting online and wireless sports-viewing apps, and not enough spent on the coding and technical support. When I finally got through to a Verizon support rep on opening day that person tried to say that errors couldn’t be fixed because “high call volume,” as if that’s a believable phrase anymore, was taking resources away from tech support. And even the NFL Mobile support’s efforts to pass off Verizon’s errors as a “server hiccup” are lame. Verizon makes something like $40 billion a quarter, and can pay $1 billion just for mobile NFL rights. But they can’t keep their phone banks staffed or their biggest sports app working on opening day? That is a priority decision that is a head slap to the users who pay $5 extra a month for NFL Mobile. But it’s apparently about the norm for mobile sports viewing apps.

NBC’s apparent decision to alienate Macintosh users is harder to figure out. At the very least, if they are going to take money from Microsoft and that is behind why NBC is “enhancing” things for Windows viewers online, be honest and tell Mac users upfront that you’re not going to get access.

If I can send any advice to teams thinking about putting in stadium apps, it would be to make sure you also have budget for technical support. I know it’s not easy to design an app or a web service that works with the dizzying amount of client devices and software install versions out in the world today. But when the biggest companies out there now are falling down on the job, it’s not a good sign for the industry overall. More support for mobile apps, please — before users stop trying them out of sheer frustration.

Sunday Night Football Online — Not Available to Mac Users?

We’re still trying to contact NBC Sports for an explanation, but for some reason we aren’t able to watch Sunday Night Football online using either one of the two Macs we have here at MSR headquarters. It may very well be that we haven’t downloaded the appropriate crappy extra plugins needed, since NBC online stuff is terrible for asking you to add junk to your computer that you don’t want.

And though the NBC Sunday Night football online site says Mac users can use any browser they want, when I use Chrome to try to log in I get a message that tells me I need to use Safari instead.

Screen shot 2013-09-15 at 5.46.13 PM

When I switch to Safari, all I get is a blank screen (other than the banner ads, which display fine) and a message that says “For additional features and the enriched Sunday Night Football experience please use your Windows-enabled PC browser and launch the video player from NBCSports.com/liveextra” — which isn’t much help and really surprising in an era when more Mac PCs and laptops are being sold.

Anyone at NBC who can explain what’s going on? Maybe we can get it figured out before the weather clears in Seattle, where play is delayed?

QUICK UPDATE, 9/17: Just spoke with an NBC representative (more info coming in separate post) who said that streaming IS available to Mac users, but only with Safari browsers. Check back for a longer post with some technical guidelines — not sure yet but guessing my inability to see live video even in Safari (which some other readers also experienced) is probably due to my using an older version of Mac OS or Safari. So: Macs aren’t shut out for SNF, but they are definitely second-class citizens now, in part no doubt due to the deal signed earlier this year between the league and Microsoft. NBC, for example, can now only offer its extended features (multiple camera angles, social media stuff) to Microsoft client devices; wonder what other restrictions the shield agreed to for Microsoft cash?

Verizon Suffers NFL Mobile Failures on Opening Day

Did you have problems connecting to the Verizon NFL Mobile app Sunday? If so, it’s not your phone — it’s Verizon, which once again proved that it wasn’t ready for the opening day of the NFL season.

As a Verizon customer and a longtime NFL Mobile customer as well, I’ve experienced much frustration over the past couple years due to glitches with the app and programming for it. When it works I am amazed at the ability to watch live football on my phone. But how can two companies, the NFL and Verizon, which make billions in profits each year, have such consistent failures? Does anyone there care if the app actually works or not?

On Sunday I downloaded the new version of the NFL Mobile app, then tried to connect to watch RedZone for the afternoon game endings. I got an authentication failure, which surprised me since I had done everything possible beforehand (turned on all location services, turned off Wi-Fi) to make sure Verizon knew where my phone was.

After going through a half-hour of support hell waiting (including, ironically, a Drew Brees commercial telling me how great NFL Mobile is) I finally got a technician to tell me that because “so many people” were using the NFL Mobile app, Verizon’s network basically went kablooey, and that massive amounts of NFL Mobile users weren’t able to connect. Imagine that! People wanted to watch the NFL today! That’s like not stocking Elmo toys the week before Thanksgiving, or any similarly stupid move. The Verizon rep also told me that “because of high call volume” Sunday there weren’t enough technical reps at work to handle the NFL Mobile outage.

I will give the Twitter reps at NFL Mobile customer support a small bit of respect for finding my tweets and trying to respond, but really — this just shouldn’t happen. Not when the NFL itself says that more people are going to its websites via mobile than via desktops. The biggest app for the biggest sport simply shouldn’t have network failures. And reps shouldn’t be whining that too many people are trying to use it as the reason why it failed. Unless we all get a month’s credit on our Verizon bills.

Is “hiccups” on a server a new technical term? Is there a “hiccup reset” button?

As of 5 p.m. Pacific Time, it still wasn’t working for me. But the support folks found time for humor.

So — Verizon can pay the NFL a billion bucks for NFL Mobile rights, but can’t keep enough engineers on staff on Sundays to make the thing work? That’s fail with a capital F. Which is the grade we give Verizon for its performance on what is probably the sports world’s most-used app. And they’re locked in for four more years. Now I know what a Cleveland Brown fan must feel like.

UPDATE: At 5:42 p.m. Pacific Time NFL Mobile finally authenticated my device. Just in time to watch Tony Romo be Tony Romo.