Matthew Hatton is a disgruntled consumer and opinionated writer based in Newcastle. You can find him on Twitter at @bernietb. This opinion piece was originally published on his blog, The Rant-O-Matic, and is re-published here with his permission.
opinion Righto. So. Now we’re getting our 21st century internet (thank Messrs Oakshott, Windsor and Wilkie). Can we also get our 21st century television?
I, like many others, love the ABC’s iView service (which, lets be honest now, was plagiarised brilliantly from the BBC’s iPlayer service). In terms of having a reasonable collection of previously aired programs to stream on demand it’s one of the best ways around to catch up on programs you missed on TV or can’t get because you don’t have a digital set-top box — standard definition or high definition.
But now the NBN is definitely going ahead, it’s time that we started looking at serious ways of getting more of our television content on the internet and on demand.
Even the ABC, despite its awesomeness, lacks in a couple of key areas when you look at having a flawless internet-based video delivery system. The other networks, by and large, haven’t even bothered; or their efforts are so poor that I simply don’t know they exist because they don’t bother promoting it.
For a start, why isn’t there a full, live stream available for all the channels? Why does only ABC News 24 get such special treatment in this regard? Surely it’s to everybody’s benefit to have a live stream of all the free-to-air channels available? I’d be far more inclined to watch a program on a spur of the moment if I don’t have to worry about having to locate a TV on which to watch it.
You know, it really doesn’t matter if you’re worried about people from overseas stealing your precious bandwidth. They’re unlikely to steal anything that we’ve imported from overseas because even our fast-tracked programs have long since found their way onto the torrent sites and those that want to watch them have. But if they stream Australian-made content, then at least that shows interest from overseas in what we’re producing down here — and that’s something that I’m sure you can profit from when it comes to DVD sales later on.
If you’re going to offer an improved internet streaming service for live television then you should also really look to improve your on-demand offerings as well. This is an area where I’ve had some call to complain about iView in the past.
While it’s good that you can go back two weeks through the listings and watch programs, what about that show that I didn’t hear about until the third, or fourth, week on air? What do I do then? Especially if it’s something that’s serialised. How can I go back and watch the beginning without having to avoid hearing plot spoilers (if it’s popular enough to be worthy of water-cooler office discussion) or waiting until the DVDs come out? At the moment my only option is to pirate it — and no one wins there.
I just don’t understand why we haven’t got a domestic service that provides television over the internet in a similar vein to the US’s effort with Hulu. Actually, Hulu suffers from the same lack of archive problems as iView does, why don’t have a service that’s better than Hulu.
For the most part, ISP bandwidth caps are starting to come into the range where this sort of bandwidth-intensive service is becoming something you can actually do on over your connection without suffering crippling fees or slower than a snail speed restrictions. Add into that the roll-out of the NBN and further reduced cost per gigabyte of data with higher bandwidth connections and you’ve got the recipe for TV networks to actually increase their overall viewership, which then flows onto the creators of these programs — allowing them to make more quality programming. Everyone wins.
Of course with every utopian dream like this comes the question of revenue. For the networks, putting this stuff out there to be viewed isn’t a free exercise. The costs need to be covered from somewhere and that means, usually, advertising. But again it’s not all bad.
A live stream would carry the same advertisements that are shown on the over the air broadcast, so there’s money that can be made there. Hulu has demonstrated that consumers are reasonably happy with pre-roll advertisements before their on-demand programs and even, though less so, a short advertisement during the program itself. So it could possibly work.
The other option is, of course, a monthly subscription. Again referring to Hulu and we can see that they’re offering a minimal charge to access their service via an iPad application — and possibly some other devices. However, not being in the US means that I haven’t really looked closely at it. It looks like this could help offest the cost of providing the service as well as show that there’s even a profit to potentially be made, rather than just thinking of it as a zero-sum game.
We can all pretty much agree that there’s going to be a time when over-the-air broadcast television services are going to cease. Personally I think that’s well within my lifetime, likely to be within the next 2 decades. It’s inevitable that this sort of content is going to have to be delivered through the internet.
There’s enough demand and enough money to be made there now for these broadcasters to start considering taking advantage of it. Plus, you know, they could do with giving us viewers a bit of goodwill because if they don’t get this right, it’s going to be all over for them completely come the inevitable, online revolution.