Due to my lack of electronic goods, my TV watching has been restricted to waht I can find and play on the laptop. Now, yes, downloads would give me copies to keep, but sometimes the instant gratification is what I need so I turned to the networks and their forays into online programming to see how good they are. I’m going to run through the majors to give you a taste of how easy, or hard, it is to watch. I’m using TimeWarner cable which is currently running at 4.5Mb down (although previous speeds have clocked in around 2 Mbps)
Finding the content
ABC: you can access the videos through a few ways. There’s a large button on the home page, the main show listing has icons to show which ones you can watch and you can get to the episode from the show page. (ABC also wins the prize for the most annoying to assess due the videos that autoplay on every page – at loud volume)
CBS: there are 2 routes from the home page, one to watch a series direct and one to a overall section on CBS video. They do not seem to have integrated the service as much as ABC as you cannot get to the video from the series information, even when there is a link to catch up on previous episodes.
NBC: this has the least routes in. From first glance it looks like you can go to the NBC video from the home page section below the fold but this only gives you interviews, clips etc. What you are after is NBC Rewind which you can get to via the Video navigation option or from the series page. NBC also offer you the chance to download a video player to your PC and download locval (DRM’d) copies of 2 shows, which manes you can watch whilst not connected but they will stop playing after a certain time.
ABC: has 7 of it’s primetime shows available. For each, the past 4 episodes are available.
CBS: It’s Innertube channel has the largest selection, with 14 different shows available online. For each, there appears to be 4 episodes.
NBC: NBC Rewind has 7 shows being offered in the full versions.
The Playing Field
ABC: launches a new window that has pretty movable flash display for you to to find your choice of entertainment. The videoplays in a window about 3×6 inches or can be expanded to full screen. ABC seems to have issues with band width detection at it continously flashes warnings that my connection is less than 500Kbps or 800 for the big screen. None of the others give me warnings. I have had issues with playing content, in that it goes so far and no further
CBS: again launches a new window, and plays the video in a 5×5 inch screen or in full screen. The qauality is OK for large screen and very good for small. No warnings about bandwidth but it has occasionally paused for buffering. Unlike ABC, the player also shows related videos, clips etc that you may be interested in. Navigation is easy and it is straightfoward to find your way around (once you’ve got there!)
NBC: Plays within the existing window in about a 7×4 window. The big screen version is not that much bigger, but you get it without the wrapper. However, one advantage over the other players was the ability to move between acts – so you can watch a bit and come back. NBC also offer their download service for 2 of their programmes (Studio 60 and Heroes) which plays in full screen.
ABC: the player has a title sponsor with a banner link, the programme is bought to you by the sponsor and then there are limited ads between each act (Not sure how many, not got that far in the playing!)
CBS: Each section has a title sponsor and they have an ad between the acts.
NBC: nothing new here, again they offer a title sponsor with a banner link whioch changes per act. Each act has an ad before it. Interestingly the standalone player does not have ads (which I guess means that they may charge for it soon?)
In general, I get disappointed with the ads as very few of them appear to have been adjusted for the web, they are just TV scrapes. There is a lot of opportunity for marketers to make something a wee bit different to capture the imagination..and click through.
In summary, I’ve not managed to watch ABC content yet, I prefer the NBC experience of the player and CBS offer the best package. It’s not better than TV on Tivo, but it’s still pretty good.
One issue that you haven’t talked about is how the networks are using technology to limit/protect content in different markets. The key way that this seems to be done is by limiting access to content by geo-location of IP address. For example, I cannot access the ABC content from a UK IP address. Take Greys Anatomy – we are in season two in the UK, the US is part way through season three – I can see why they would want to limit the online access to season three from users in a market where that hasn’t yet been released.
I haven’t tried *really* hard to access this content (either by going through a US based public proxy or spoofing my IP address – is there an easy way to access it I wonder?) because I can buy the content from the US iTunes store. Here I don’t need a credit card, I just pick up scratch-off credit vouchers each time I am in the States, or get friends in the US to buy me USD gift certificates. So, even though I can’t readily access free US prime time content, I can pretty easily subvert Apple’s functionality designed to tap into the under-age/bad credit market to get my fix of the latest shows. If Apple restrict access to their stores by IP address – then I really would be scuppered…
I’ve written about this before, with respect to bbc content and accessing it from the US. During the World Cup I did try proxies etc but could not get it to work. In that case, I think there is a case for giving me access – I pay a licence fee, I can prove that with a number so why not give me access when I’m elsewhere. With the US networks you don’t have that sort of subscription, so they are tied in by the current rights legalities. The itunes is a good workaround – i had to set up a US account when US work colleagues bought me vouchers. The rights’ laws have not yet caught up with the reality of a connected world