ESPN3 on Xbox 360

Yesterday Val and I tried to tune in to the Holiday Bowl game between Nebraska and Washington and, while it was list in our TiVo’s program guide as showing on ESPN, some other game was showing in its place. The ticker at the bottom of the screen happened to mention that the Nebraska game was being shown on ESPN3.

I recognized ESPN3 as being one of the things that you can watch on the Xbox 360 via Xbox LIVE, so I fired it up. The initial impression this gives is pretty incredible: there’s a group of avatars, including yours, with apparently huge screens showing all kinds of sports. You can use the Xbox controller to select one and it immediately starts streaming. The quality wasn’t as good as ESPN via our cable provider, but it was on par with other high-quality sources of streaming video online. There were standard video controls to pause, rewind and otherwise control the video.

There were interesting social aspects to the experience, too. There was a screen to put in picks for all of the bowl games, and when you watched one, a cute graphic at the bottom showed groups of avatars on each team’s side to represent the percentage of people who were picking either team. If you have the Kinect (I don’t), there are apparently ways to control and interact with the content with it. Neat.

There’s one huge drawback, though: commercials. I mean, I get that they need to pay for this thing, and I’m even willing to put up with commercials for it. But they showed the same two commercials over and over and over. I mean, every four or five minutes. They had blocks that were designed for, say five 30-second spots, and they showed (for example) the AT&T commercial, the Allstate commercial, the same AT&T commercial, followed by a block of “we’ll be right back” screen. In a couple of cases, they showed the Allstate commercial a fourth time even.

Ultimately, it was so bad we stopped watching.

ESPN3 and Xbox 360 has a ton of promise. I’d love to see this get the social aspects of watching a movie “together” with other people remotely, a la Netflix. Perhaps using picture-in-picture via the Kinect or the Xbox LIVE camera and mics, you can get a sense of watching a game together. Fun stuff, but they have to sort out the commercial thing, because it’s currently a deal-breaker on what might otherwise be a killer app.