I did my first online streaming project in 1996 and after an evening of trying to watch what TV has become, it’s time for an audit.
Before I do a deep dive, do understand that I understand this technology and even helped invent much of it. where we have got to is dreadful.
Let’s start with the big picture. we’ve gone from a single EPG (electronic programme guide) to a disparate smorgasbord of content scattered across tens if not hundreds of ’apps’ and interfaces. And, in most cases, each costs. Your £30 cable bill has become a £100 plus broadband and services bill.
Of course, ’discovery’ or finding stuff is another issue. There are some ’meta’ services, including, in the UK, traditional broadcasters like Comcast’s Sky, JustWatch, hardware companies like Roku and search engines.
But when you get down to individual services things get even more problematic.
Netflix provides a good technical service, but discovery and user experience is rotten. For example, Netflix does not recognise that you have watched content until you get to episode level, so you can keep on starting stuff you’ve watched over and again. their forthcoming clampdown on using your account at more than one property, if badly handled, will be a problem for people who travel a lot and take their video stick with them. But Netflix’ biggest issue is their content – they seem to produce ten times more Spanish and five times more Korean productions than anything in the UK.
Prime Video has dreadful technical problems – connection times are prehistoric and very often the audio is out of sync. Mixing paid for and bundled content is also confusing. And paying for your video via a delivery service is just weird.
Apple TV+ finally seems to have some content, but its UI is heavy and slow.
Disney+ is onto a winner as a child pacification service, but beyond that its appeal is poor.
The BBC’s iPlayer is excellent but requires endless clicks to get to content – ‘do you have a licence?’ ’are you over 18?’ ’agree to cookies’ ’which profile?’. You get none of that on your TV.
BT Sport is good but slow and inconsistent in its catchup, seems to have lost its start from start function. There is no pickup. It also has ads on a paid service.
Now TV is just dreadful. Catchup is non existent or glacial. It is a paid service riddled with ads. The costs are astronomic. The UI is awful.
ITV Hub has bad pickup, live isn’t available on platforms such as LG TVs, no start from start but the worst issue is the dreadful quality of the streaming.
YouTube has more and more good content (such as cricket) and is being used by minor broadcasters such as S4C (for cost saving and distribution). but it is a cluttered mess using search in place of an UI.
Channel 4 seems not to have invested in its streaming for a decade. Endless ads, endless looping ads, dreadful pickup, no live, no start from start, poor image quality. They really need to start from scratch.
Five has a generally very good service.
Premier TV is a real curate’s egg. all their live coverage is immediately available, but there are no apps. you either use Sky or have to depend on Chromecast. The company has recently been acquired by Viaplay who are renowned for their bad tech, so things are not likely to improve.
UKTV’s app is great.
Britbox is my only faultless service. it does what it does wonderfully well.