news Publicly funded broadcaster SBS today launched a highly anticipated Android version of its on-demand Internet TV viewing platform, but limited the launch to those Australians with Samsung devices, in a move stimulated by a co-development effort with the Korean manufacturer.
The company issued a media release this afternoon noting that the SBS ‘On Demand’ app was now available for Samsung devices via Samsung’s dedicated Apps store. However, the app is not available via Google’s dedicated Play Store, which is the usual mechanism for apps to be distributed onto Android devices.
Speaking with Delimiter this afternoon, SBS chief digital officer Marshall Heald said despite the fact that SBS is a publicly owned broadcasting corporation mostly funded by the Federal Government, SBS had agreed to a three month exclusivity window with Samsung, because the vendor had given the broadcaster development assistance in building an Android app. After the three month window, the Android app will be available on other Android devices.
SBS, Heald said, had “a pretty lean operation”, with a significantly smaller budget even than the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and it wouldn’t have been able to develop its app for Android without Samsung’s assistance. Heald said SBS had not received any specific funding from the Federal Government to work on mobile platforms such as Android. “We don’t have the special funding and resources to do this ourselves,” he said.
The executive pointed out that SBS maintained a substantial number of platforms for its on-demand application, ranging from Apple’s iOS to Windows platforms, smart TVs and gaming consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox system. “We’ve tended to work with device manufacturers so that we can guarantee some sort of quality of service for products,” he noted, pointing out that SBS had worked with other vendors such as Nokia and Microsoft on building apps for their platforms.
Heald declined to respond directly to the allegation that SBS had given Samsung a commercial advantage against other Android handset manufacturers with its three month exclusivity window, stating that this was “a poor way” to describe the situation. “They have helped us to get onto the platform,” the executive said.
Responding to the issue that SBS has long had an iOS app, but not an Android app, Heald said that the fact that the broadcaster’s content was available on 13 different platforms already “should demonstrate that we’re platform-agnostic”.
The arrangement appears to be similar to an arrangement outed between Samsung and pay TV giant Foxtel in July this year. At the time, Foxtel revealed it had finally launched its Go app — which allows Foxtel subscribers to access content when they’re away from their primary cable connection — across what it described as a “host of new devices” — including what it said were “select” Samsung Android smartphones and tablets, as well as PC and Mac computers.
It immediately became apparent that the company’s pledge to bring Foxtel Go to Android devices was not as comprehensive as some would have assumed. In the fine print associated with Foxtel’s media release on the issue, the company noted that its Android app would only run on a very limited set of devices — and all from Samsung: The Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Note II or the Galaxy Note 10.1. In addition, customers would not be able to download the Foxtel Go app through Google’s Play store, but instead only through Samsung’s own Apps store, which is little used by Android users.
The move immediately locked out users of other Android devices from using Foxtel Go, including customers of brands popular in Australia, including HTC, as well as other less-popular brands such as Sony, LG, Samsung, ASUS, Huawei and others. And it also locks many Samsung users out of using the app — including even those using the company’s new Galaxy S4 handset, currently one of the top-selling smartphones in Australia. Foxtel’s move also locks those using some of the most popular Android tablets — Google’s Nexus 7 and 10 models — out of its content ecosystem.
The news comes as the level of frustration which Australians have with public broadcasters such as SBS and the ABC over their lack of platform support continues to grow. Both broadcasters have long had mobile apps available for Apple’s iOS platform for iPhones, iPads and iPods, but both have been recalcitrant to launch similar apps on Google’s Android platform, despite the fact that Android has emerged as a major competitor to iOS, and that many analysts believe the Android platform in general is now more dominant than iOS.
In August, Chinese Android manufacturer Huawei took the extraordinary step of publicly castigating the ABC on its lack of an iView app for Android.
“Like many Australian Android users, I have been hearing ‘the Android iView app is coming’ for far too long,” said Huawei Corporate Affairs Director Jeremy Mitchell at the time. “Despite the claims of the ABC, there has been no real evidence that there is any desire to fill this blatant gap. It feels like Godot will arrive before the iView app gets here on Android.”
“Is the ABC the Apple Broadcast Corporation or the Anti-droid Broadcast Corporation? Looking at the evidence, they both fit so well,” Mitchell said.
Responding to the issue of whether SBS viewers should be angry about the Samsung limitation, Heald said the broadcaster’s customers should take a different point of view. “They should be filled with positive thoughts,” the executive said. “We have made a commitment to being on the rest. We need to guarantee a quality of service for our products across all the different platforms.”
The new SBS On Demand app offers free, unlimited access to programs and clips, so audiences can watch their favourite SBS shows on their mobile device. “Users can search for or browse thousands of videos, and discover documentaries, feature films, food shows and much more,” the broadcaster’s media release this morning said. “Users’ favourite videos can be added to a personal Playlist, to view at a later time. Plus, if signed in with an SBS On Demand account, viewers will be able to access their Playlist across all devices on which SBS On Demand is available.”
“Other features include a program subscription tool, allowing audiences to stay up to date, with new episodes automatically added to their Playlist. Notifications will alert viewers when a new subscription video has been added, or when a Playlist video is about to expire. Users can also find out which programs are coming soon to SBS On Demand, and add them so that they will automatically be included in their Playlist once available. The App features adaptive video quality, meaning videos automatically adjust to available bandwidth and network conditions. Videos may also be shared with friends via Twitter, Facebook or email.
The app is designed for devices running Android OS 4.0+ and above (Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean). Watching SBS On Demand on any device counts as ISP data quota. In addition, due to rights restrictions, most videos on SBS On Demand are geo-blocked to Australia. Some videos of Insight, Dateline and World News Australia clips are available to watch internationally.
Image credit: Samsung