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When ESPN came out with its app for the Xbox 360 last year, it changed my life — at least until Call of Duty: Black Ops sucked it away for a few months.

ESPN app

The rollout brought my 360 closer to becoming the only set-top box I need* (I already have my cable TV on the 360 through Windows Media Center and my tuner card-equipped PC).

But the first time I sat down with a friend to watch a college football bowl game and chat in an Xbox Live party, I noticed a big weakness in the ESPN app: Our streams of the game were 60 seconds apart.

OK it was funny for a bit as I spoiled some of the plays for him on purpose.

The problem was exacerbated when watching a more fast-paced sport like college basketball. I could be three or four possessions ahead of my friends.

The party support is the biggest feature the app is lacking.**

For someone like me who is no longer within easy driving distance of his college friends, the party feature could be the next best thing to being in the room and watching the game with them.

I called the customer service number for ESPN and was told there are no set plans to add the feature in at this time. An Xbox product team member said in a November forum post that it was being considered. I passed along the following feedback to the service rep I called:

Netflix app party

Netflix has party support for its 360 app, and I think it would provide a great model for the addition to ESPN. It delivers all members of the party the same feed at the same time. No spoilers. I can let out my loud BOOOOOOMMMMMM! when Thomas Robinson shakes the rim with a crazy dunk and not upset anyone (OK I might upset their ears).

Honestly, ESPN is the better forum for the party support. Who talks up a storm during a movie? If I hear chatter during a movie I’m likely watching it with Rifftrax, which aren’t available through Netflix instant. It’s during sporting events that you share the “holy hell” and “Did you see that!?” community chatter.

But in the early stages, the app’s community efforts have focused on polls asking who everybody on Xbox Live thinks if going to win a certain game. While that’s a cool feature (and likely easier to create), synced party watching and chat is vital to the experience.

If you want to encourage ESPN to add the feature, you can e-mail them or call (888) 549-3776.

* And coming Hulu Plus support will make it even closer, theoretically at least. Who actually has Hulu Plus? If only Microsoft would add free Hulu.

** Now that I don’t have problems with the video strangely zooming in on a quarter of the stream whenever I fast forward.

Luke Morris

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