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No Online TV For UK Firefox Users

September 15th, 2008 · 14 Comments

Russell Brand promotes 4oD but not to Firefox users
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?

BBC iPlayer - online TV

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.

ITV Catch Up - online TV

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?

4oD - online TV from Channel 4

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.

Demand Five - online TV from Channel 5

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.

Sky Player - online TV from Sky

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.

Tags: General

14 responses so far ↓

  • Phazer // Sep 16, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    I have none of these stuttering problems you mention in Firefox, or Safari, or Opera, on either Vista or my Mac.

    I don’t think any of the services operate any buffer at all to make copying the streams harder (regardless of browser) so it would seem to me that you were just the victim of different network conditions during testing – did you do all the sites in IE and then all of them in FF?

  • Alan // Sep 16, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    The iPlayer works fine for me in Firefox.

    I agree with you about ITV player. It freezes for me in both Firefox and Internet Explorer. I tried to watch X Factor yesterday and it took me nearly 2 hours to watch a 1 hour show.

    I didn’t realise that Sky had an online service. Is it available to subscribers only?

  • Mike // Sep 17, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Phazer – Now that’s interesting. All of the UK online TV companies categorically state that their service is not currently available to Linux or Mac users but you’re able to use them on your Mac. Did you have to do any tweaks or do they all just work straight ‘out of the box’?

    With regard the testing, I’ve been using the iPlayer for the last year and regularly encounter problems via Firefox. The others I’ve tested on and off for the last 3-4 weeks.

    All of them were initially tested on Firefox. It’s my browser of choice so it wasn’t necessarily a test environment – I just wanted to use the service. Switching to IE came about because of the frustration and then after that I decided to look into them a bit deeper with a view to writing this article.

    Network conditions may have a part to play but, in the case of the iPlayer, I’ve accessed the service at varying times of day and night and still regularly encounter problems.

    I’m very interested to hear back from you regarding the Mac situation.

  • Mike // Sep 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Alan – With Sky you appear to get a certain selection of channels free (i.e. the stuff they give away to Freeview) but the bulk of the stuff is only available to existing subscribers or if you pay online for specific channels/mixes.

    Oddly enough I tried to watch X Factor the other day and gave up after a while. The audio came through OK but the picture didn’t. It was like watching a slideshow with sound. Particularly disturbing when the frozen image is of Simon Cowell with his mouth wide open…

  • Kacy Arch // Sep 18, 2008 at 8:49 am

    Heh, it looks like those programs have some kind of deal with Microsoft to promote IE, and degrade Firefox and Mac. The best one is Channel 4, which made me laugh, asking to have IE installed in order to watch the TV. Something is fishy there, and i curious to know what will they do about Chrome.

  • Mike // Sep 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

    I don’t think they have deals with MS but they are basing their platforms on legacy software and not looking forward to the next generation.

  • ebay auction tool // Sep 22, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Oh man. I always use firefox and love atching television programs on my laptop. It is very convenient and I don’t have to worry much about bills.

  • Mike // Sep 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Interesting to see this chap extolling the virtues of 4oD based on the fact that he doesn’t have to buy a TV licence to watch TV online.

    The last time I checked it was a legal requirement to have a TV licence if you had any equipment capable of receiving a TV signal.

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  • Mike // Sep 30, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    As an aside to my earlier comment regarding X Factor, I started to watch this weekends episode using ITV Catch Up and got massively frustrated.

    The soundtrack kept playing but the picture seemed to be stuck on a close up of Dannii Minogue.

    It was only later that I realised that everything was working OK. It’s just that Ms Minogue has (allegedly) had so many Botox implants that her face is incapable of moving…

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  • Steve Martin // Jan 2, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    online tv will be the next hit, if everything is planned well

  • Ski // Jan 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    “The last time I checked it was a legal requirement to have a TV licence if you had any equipment capable of receiving a TV signal.”

    The legal requirement applies to PC’s & transmissions over the internet, but only if you are watching them live. You can quite happily “watch or listen again” without having to pay for a license :)

  • Mike // Jan 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Now that’s interesting, Ski. I’d never heard that before.

    So what you’re saying is that you can watch services like iPlayer and CatchUp without a licence provided you don’t watch their live feed?

    Do you have any links to site to confirm that?