Russell Brand promotes 4oD but not to Firefox users
Over the last year we have seen an explosion in the number of websites which allow users to watch TV shows online. Almost every week TechCrunch highlight another new company offering online video on demand. VOD is big business and is undoubtedly going to be an integral part of the future of broadcasting.
So why is it that UK TV companies are persecuting Firefox users?
Back in August of last year I wrote about the launch of the BBC iPlayer. I mentioned at the time that I found it incredible that something as ground breaking as the iPlayer (the BBC were the first to launch online TV in the UK) was incompatible with Macs and the Windows Vista operating system. The Beeb eventually upgraded the iPlayer and it now works on Vista but is still unavailable to Linux or Macintosh users. They offer streaming video to Linux and Mac users but this is where we start to hit problems.
Watching streaming video on the iPlayer in Firefox can be a frustrating experience. It regularly freezes, skips or just simply times out. When I use Internet Explorer the viewing experience is generally fine. I don’t think I’ve had any problems using the iPlayer in IE.
Moving on to the competition, I tried to use the ITV Catch Up service for the first time last month. A friend of mine had appeared in the TV show ‘Who Dares Sings’ and I wanted to watch his performance. Trust me, it’s not the kind of programme I’d normally watch but since Jonny Cat was singing, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Well what an absolute ball breaker of an experience that was. Unlike the BBC iPlayer which uses embedded Flash to play the TV shows, ITV Catch Up insisted that I install Microsoft Silverlight before I could watch any of their TV shows online. Now I’d installed Silverlight a few months earlier to watch the Live Mesh demo so why did I have to install it again?
Anyway I reinstalled Silverlight and still no TV. All I was getting was a prompt to install Silverlight. Despite repeated attempts I was unable to view anything via Firefox but as soon as I opened up IE it worked just fine.
Now according to Microsoft, Silverlight is “a cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web“. Well that’s all well and good unless the browser happens to be Firefox and the platform happens to be ITV Catch Up because it’s as buggy as hell. As with the BBC iPlayer, the ITV products freezes, skips and generally misbehaves in Firefox but works fine on IE.
So far, so bad. The two main UK TV stations don’t play nicely with Firefox so how will the others fare?
Don’t even get me started on Channel 4. Their online TV service 4oD requires software installation for starters, is not available to Mac users and only supports Internet Explorer. You cannot use 4oD with Firefox unless you have IE installed on your computer. A lot of Firefox users have uninstalled IE from their machines so the only way for them to use 4oD is to reinstall Microsofts crappy resource hungry buggy web browser otherwise no Channel 4 for them. Just how ridiculous is that? You cannot view streaming video via your browser. You have to register and install the 4oD player which, incidentally, causes Windows Firewall exceptions.
All of this to watch the occasional episode of Countdown in the hope Carol Vorderman has a wardrobe malfunction and shows us her nips.
As with the ITV product, the only reason I initially used Demand Five was because a friend of mine was appearing in a TV show and I’d missed it. Given my experience with ITV, I wasn’t looking forward to it but I was pleasantly surprised. I had an initial gripe that I had to register and provide my email address but, after that, everything was plain sailing and much to my surprise everything worked perfectly in Firefox. No cranking up IE just to watch TV online. The service worked just fine using my Vista PC and the Firefox browser. I didn’t have to compromise anything to use the service. However, as with all of the other services, Mac users are fresh out of luck. It’s a Windows only product.
How ironic that the least watched mainstream UK TV station was the only video on demand service that worked nicely with Firefox.
The final UK VOD service I’ll briefly have a look at is the recently rebranded Sky Player. Previously packaged as Sky Broadband and Sky Anytime on PC, the guys at Sky decided to rename the product so that it sounds nothing like the online TV product marketed by their big rivals at the BBC.
Anyway it’s another service which requires downloading and installing a standalone player. As far as I can see wading through the information on the site, there is no streaming video content available through your web browser. It’s the Sky way or the highway.
I was considering installing Sky Player just so I could give it a fair shot but a quick search on Google for Sky Player problems returned way too many results for me to even consider it. Add to that that unless you’re a Sky subscriber there doesn’t seem to be a vast amount of content available unless you’re prepared to pay for it.
Does it work with Firefox? I don’t know for sure but, again, a quick Google search for Sky Player Firefox problems suggests it doesn’t play nicely with the browser. And Mac users strike out again, I’m afraid, along with Linux users and 64 bit Vista users.
UK Online TV – The Conclusion
Basically if you want to watch online TV in the UK and you’re a Mac or Linux user, you’re fucked. It’s not going to happen.
If you’re a Firefox user you’re not much better off. It seems that the main five UK broadcasters are intent on ignoring nearly 30% of the online community by making their streaming product only available to IE users. Sure you can watch stuff using Firefox but the user experience sucks.
Microsoft’s browser market share is 72.2% and falling (Source – Computerworld). Just in case you’ve been on another planet for the last few weeks, Google recently launched the Chrome browser and you can expect that to chip away even further at Microsoft’s market share so why are the TV broadcasters focusing exclusively on the ailing browser?
In the UK, the BBC iPlayer stands head and shoulders above all of the other competing services and has improved consistently since its launch. However why is it only Five’s offering that works seamlessly with the Firefox browser? Folks complained to the BBC about the lack of Firefox support back in August 07 so why have they not addressed the issue fully? Why have ITV chosen to make it nigh on impossible to watch TV shows using Firefox? Why did Channel 4 bother at all?
Online TV in the UK has come a long way over the last 18 months but it will ultimately fail unless it embraces non-Microsoft software.