When ‘Project Kangaroo‘ was first announced I got all excited, I love watching TV, I love watching old TV shows but I like to watch them on my terms – and buying DVDs can get overly expensive for something you might watch once in a year.
Part of the whole ‘watching TV on my terms’ thing was resolved in a legally grey way in the first instance with sites like UKNova and Pirate Bay and then later, in a simpler, easier to use and legal way by first 4OD and later the BBC iPlayer – now all the main ‘original content’ networks in the UK have their own on demand player.
But that still didn’t solve my DVD problem, my desire to watch a show that suddenly jumps back into my head at short notice. This hasn’t been a problem for Channel 4 programmes, and to some extent ITV shows – but for the BBC it’s always been a case of relying on DVDs and to a small extent iTunes.
And at the point I first started taking an interest ITV Player didn’t exist or was Windows Media only and Channel 4′s 4OD was either pay per play behind a horrible app you had to download and keep running.
What I was looking for was plain and simple, I want to have an idea for a show I wanted to watch, go to a website and click play – a few seconds later I’m watching it.
Fortunately attitudes have changed with technology, demand and an increasingly cheaper supply of broadband to the home and the server.
Lack of community
In a bit I’ll go through each of the main on demand sites in turn but before that there is one major thing missing from ALL the British on demand sites, something that exists brilliantly on Hulu, MSN Video uses and is the lifeblood of sites like YouTube – community.
The problem with all the UK broadcasters is that their sites exist a player, a place to come, watch what you want and move on – the idea being that if you want to discuss then do it somewhere else.
But, what I really want is to watch a programme and then write my thoughts on it in review form, maybe join a linked discussion thread and even have the ability to embed that video on my own site where I can write a full review – in fact they COULD allow me to write the review on their site under the video and include a ‘post to your blog’ option for registered users.
Working in a similar way to Digg and Flickr – this would let me post the video and my review, created on say the BBC iPlayer site – directly to my blog with all embed and links in place automatically.
But if you can’t wait for that you can get the iPlayer embed code, in a bit of a crude fashion, from my iPlayer PIP tool – go to http://upyourego.com/pip/
Hulu (Most major US networks)
A great example of how to merge social, community and online video is Hulu – not available in the UK at the moment and with a player that isn’t really as good as the iPlayer, Hulu does have a couple of tricks up its sleeve.
The navigation is far better than any UK broadcaster giving users a lot more information about the show on the first page than any UK broadcaster does. It also allows for debate, review AND embedding of the content on another site.
On its homepage it has featured video, popular video and editors picks – making it closer to iTunes in navigation concept than iPlayer – but then you can also break it down by Channel, collections and more.
It includes links to share your content on social media sites and if registered you can see your friends viewing and rating activity (which to be honest could get a bit embarrasing if you’re friend is watching a lot of BBC Three).
The British broadcasters could learn a lot in the social sphere from Hulu and will learn a lot when they bring their technology to the UK in the near future.
BBC (BBC iPlayer)
So I can now go to BBC iPlayer and watch what I want for around seven days after broadcast, or longer in the case of series linked shows.
The iPlayer is easily the best player of all the UK broadcaster sites and has the easiest to use navigation and layout.
It also has the best range of features, the highest quality video, the option of downloads and no ads – but then it IS funded by the licence fee so no commercial constraints to worry about.
It’s all the little bits as well that make the iPlayer as special and useful as it is, things like the listings, the recommendations (the incredible volume of programming makes this useful) and the live search tips.
EMBED: See here
ITV (ITV Player)
I could also now go to the ITV Player to watch new and archive content in what is becoming an easier to use site and player.
But it is still a little clunky and I’d say, unless you’re looking for a flagship programme like Coronation Street or Britains Got Talent – has the worst navigation and ‘findability’ of the UK on demand sites.
The fact that ITV are opening up their archive but ad supported is a pretty big deal because, although there are VERY FEW shows on ITV I watch now, there was once a considerable number of good quality programmes coming out of the multiple broadcasters that USED to make up this now massive national entity.
4OD (Channel 4)
Then there is Channel 4, whose player I think probably takes the longest to load but is fairly glitch free on a reasonable broadband line, it’s also pretty easy to use, certainly easier than ITV Player but nowhere near as easy as the BBC Player.
C4 is another broadcaster opening up its archive, and interestingly marrying that archive with clips as well – so if you don’t want to sit through a whole show, you can find a clip with the segment that you remember and just watch that.
I would say Channel 4 have some really interesting navigation ideas on their site – including the live search where you can start typing the name of a show and it will give you the link – but again that is one of the almost ‘hidden features’ of the BBC iPlayer – just try it by starting to type into the search box.
Demand Five (Channel 5)
Channel 5 is a really interesting case, they have the weakest content set of the UK broadcasters but, thanks to some fairly recent developments – have an increasingly impressive on demand service.
Their player isn’t great but the navigation isn’t bad and they’re the only UK broadcaster to have any form of social interactivity – ok so it is just star ratings and social media sharing – but it’s better than the rest of them.
Sky (Multiple networks)
It could be argued that Sky were the first company to launch a multiple network on demand site in the UK – beating Hulu, MSN and Kangaroo.
It’s a really impressive piece of technology allowing Sky subscribers to watch most of the channels in their subscription package online as well as a number of shows, movies and sports (depending on whether you have those premium packages or not) on demand.
This is brilliant for me, and makes much more sense than having Sky+ in multiple rooms as my wife can watch her shows on the TV in the living room while at the same time I can sit at the computer and watch a movie or a TV show (like Eureka) with headphones.
Now some shows do cost money, but it is a fairly small amount and you have to have Sky Multiroom or Sky Player Multiroom to watch live – but I don’t see why you shouldn’t be prepared to pay for on demand content – it costs money to make and screen.
I’d rather pay a small fee/top up subscription than have adverts.
Of course the individual sites are becoming increasingly irrelevant as sites like TeeV pull all the shows together in one place and allow you to find it easier.
Then when you get Hulu UK and MSN Video launching over the next few months – you’ll have the archive content after the networks time-out window and I’m sure an integration of the ‘new’ content through feeds.
And of course there is sharing through Facebook and Twitter and the new TestTubeTelly from Channel 4 – pulling their shows together and adding an interactive layer.
Now the BBC is starting to make more of its video content available on other sites, but at this stage only through a branded player on signed up newspaper partner sites.
But, if its through a branded player anyway – why not just add an embed link to ALL their online video content and let people use and display it as they like (within the confines of a T&C agreement and refer blocking if necessary)?
That way anyone that wants to use to a)illustrate an article, b) improve their AV content or even c) look good – can! If it’s BBC branded with links back to the originating BBC article – I don’t see why it shouldn’t be accessible everywhere – same goes for the BBC iPlayer video.
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