Sunday, January 18, 2015

Broken Broadcaster streaming websites

If you haven't tried to use them, you might wonder why the websites that Canadian broadcasters (or most often, the BDUs that own them) offer isn't a substitute for the subscription services I've been asking for.  You might ask why I would be willing to pay the BBC to watch Doctor Who when I could watch it for "free" by going to Space.ca/doctorwho.  The problem is these BDU/Broadcaster provided streaming websites are so poorly implemented that even if they were commercial free I would still prefer to pay for a working subscription service.

I have become used to well designed content distribution services like Netflix and YouTube which work well on all the devices that I own.  I prefer to watch television on my television, which means my Samsung Smart TV, BoxeeBox or Chromecasts.  I sometimes like to watch mobile with my ASUS Transformer tablet (Android), my Nexus 4 smartphone, or one of the variety of Chromebooks in our family.  The place I least like to watch television is on my desktop computer, although both Netflix and YouTube work perfectly fine on my desktop computers running Ubuntu Linux.

You also don't need to be highly technical to watch Netflix or YouTube on a television, while the contortions you have to do to watch television via legacy websites is something I'll never be able to train the rest of my family to do.

To contrast with the easy to use Netflix or YouTube services, during the recent Doctor Who season I tested Space.ca on all my devices, and have only been able to view on my desktop computer.  Bell even provided an application in the Android App Store, and yet I gave up trying to watch on my Android phone or tablet given how painfully it is constantly pausing to catch up with the video.  Bell can try to blame my non-Bell Internet connection, but given I see the problem with their service and not with Netflix or YouTube it is clear the problem is with them.

This month I watched Broadchurch season 1 via Netflix, and when looking up Broadchurch on Wikipedia found that Season 2 is being shown by Showcase starting this month. I watched the first episode this afternoon.

While the Shaw provided streaming service for Showcase is better than the Bell provided streaming service for Space, I would still prefer to pay to subscribe to a properly designed service.

The Showcase website doesn't work on mobile devices as they seem to still be dependent on Adobe Flash which even Adobe themselves recognize is inappropriate for a streaming service and no longer provide for mobile or other such devices.  While Shaw Communications has some apps in the Android app store , non seem to be for accessing content on their streaming service.

I tried viewing on my Samsung Smart TV, only to have the video stop with error notices about the browser running out of memory. I only seem to be able to watch a couple commercials and a few minutes of an episode.

The website "worked" on the BoxeeBox, Chromebook and my Ubuntu Desktop, but it is painful to watch.   The video quality is low, and you can see video encryption artifacts nearly all the time. Sometimes the video would pause for a moment, but nowhere near as bad as the Bell streaming service on their Android app.

The most distracting aspect is how the commercials have been poorly implemented.  The video would pass the moment where you can tell the commercial was intended to be inserted, and then start the next scene.  You would get a few seconds into the dialog and the screen resolution would change and over a (sometimes frozen, sometimes video continuing) screen you would hear the commercial, and then finally the video from the commercial would start.  The commercial would play, and then there would either be a few more seconds of the scene from the TV episode, a blank screen, or possibly the little "loading" circle spinning in the middle of the screen.  Eventually a second commercial would manage to get loaded, and you just cross your fingers hoping you didn't loose too much of the dialog from the first scene after what should have been the commercial break.

This reminded me of the RogersOnDemand online service from years back, which also implemented commercials so poorly it made the service not worth using.

I might try to watch this season of Broadchurch on the Shaw provided service.  I got hooked on the show on Netflix, and while I would prefer to pay to access via a properly implemented streaming service, the second season isn't available that way yet.  While I understand why other people might take the third option (unauthorized download site), I will stick with putting up with a crap website or not bothering to watch at all.

When I watch television or movies, I want to get into what I am watching and not be constantly having to do technical contortions or be reminded about the poor technology platform.  This is something I've never seen done correctly by any of the Canadian broadcasters (or now the BDUs that own them).

Lets see if I make it to the end of the season before I give up and wait for the season to be released on Netflix.  I waited to watch Season 1 when it was finally made available on Netflix in December 2014, and maybe I will enjoy the series more if I wait until Season 2 is finally licensed for Netflix -- maybe December 2016?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Evidence suggests broadcasters like the BBC don't want our money

Some copyright holders and their lobbyists claim the reason people infringe Copyright is because they don't want to pay, and that copyright infringement is the largest single problem reducing their revenue potential. Evidence I've seen in my decades involved in the copyright revision process suggested neither are true, and that barriers put up by the copyright holders are the largest incentive to infringe and the largest barrier to revenue potential.

The BBC is an example of a broadcaster I would like to pay money and subscribe to (not only for Doctor Who), but that continues to put up barriers to me doing so. I am not a subscriber to a BDU, which is one of the common tied sales used by broadcasters. What potential customers like myself want for television and movie content is a subscription service like Netflix which isn't tied to any specific BDU or Internet provider, and which works on enough devices that it works on devices which we own. It's not just millennials that value Netflix more that broadcast or cable.

The BBC already have the technology in place, but thus far refuse to make the service available for their own "business" reasons. Within the UK the BBC iPlayer offers a streaming service that works on nearly as many devices as Netflix does (I didn't see my Boxee Box), but this service is not made available outside the UK.

There is a separate iPlayer for BBC Worldwide, but it is tied to Apple controlled devices. I have sent feedback at least once a year for a few years about this problem, and this year someone in the "BBC iPlayer (Global) Team" sent the following nonsense:

The BBC iPlayer UK and the BBC iPlayer Global are two separate entities. The UK iPlayer is available on Android and via the UK BBC iPlayer website, The global iPlayer is only available on Apple devices at this time as they are able to enforce licensing rights on a region by region basis while other providers have been unable/unwilling to enforce such actions.

In other words, Apple lied to them about the capabilities of their encrypted media platform suggesting that the restriction the BBC was requesting is possible or even reasonable. This dishonesty, as well as their total disrespect for the property rights of technology owners, are a few of the reasons why I will never be a customer of Apple. Content delivery which is tied to the use of Apple devices is effectively unavailable to me.

There are now rumors that the BBC may be removing content from Netflix. While this wasn't their latest seasons of shows, I have enjoyed viewing old seasons of shows which I didn't access in some other way closer to the air date. Given the nonsense response from the iPlayer Global team I bet out-of-touch broadcasters like the BBC are behind the recent useless attempts at geoblocking by Netflix. While this business problem created by copyright holders like the BBC can't be solved by technology, Neftlix is forced to do a bit of theater to distract copyright holders into thinking they are doing everything they can. I get the impression that Netflix as a company is more honest than Apple, and won't outright lie to copyright holders about the capabilities of encrypted media systems.


The reality is that in whatever regions the BBC refuses to make their content available in a way that returns revenue to the BBC are regions where the viewing of BBC content won't return revenues to the BBC. It is entirely unreasonable for the BBC to be putting up barrier to receiving money, and then whining when they don't receive that rejected money.

These types of barriers are typical. Copyright holders put up one barrier after another for people to access their content through mechanisms authorized by them, driving people to access that content using easier unauthorized mechanisms. While the solution to eradicating these unauthorized mechanisms has always been to reduce the barriers to the authorized mechanisms, copyright holders continue to try to pass the buck elsewhere for their self-inflicted problems.

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Jan 16 update:  There are further reports about Netflix US removing Doctor Who and other BBC Programmes.

And later in the same day there were reports that Netflix Renews Deal for ‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Luther,’ More BBC Series

Friday, January 2, 2015

Legitimacy of new TV options CraveTV (Bell) and Shomi (Rogers, Shaw)

As Shomi received a lot of advertising in recent months I have been asked my opinion on it. I'm known as someone who has strong opinions on digital content distribution, and as someone who is a subscriber to Netflix and not to any traditional BDU (Broadcast Distribution Undertaking, the term the CRTC uses to refer to Satellite, Cable, and related companies).

My shortest answer is to say these these services aren't new, nor are they in the same market as Netflix. These services are an add-on service for existing BDU customers (Must be Television customer for Bell, but can be existing TV or Internet customer for Rogers and Shaw), and not a service that is untied to the BDU.

Rogers launched Rogers On Demand Online back in 2009, and I tried it back then when I was still a Rogers cable customer. I could almost watch a movie on my desktop computer with it, but it didn't work on the various devices I had connected to my television. It was a poorly implemented technology which they likely upgraded a bit for the rebranding and new marketing as Shomi, but it isn't correct to claim it is a new service.

CraveTV may be a new brand for Bell, but it should remind us all of iCraveTV which was an online BDU competitor which the BDUs lobbied the government to wipe out. Given the corruption in various levels of government when it comes to BDUs, it wasn't surprising when Bill C-11 passed in 2002. This made illegal a series of companies that were offering services as legitimate as the services of BDUs, but offering it over the Internet in a way that was Internet provider neutral.

This should remind us that we would have had legitimate Made In Canada competitors long before Netflix launched in 2008. For all the flag waiving that the BDUs include in their anti-competitive lobbying, it is the BDUs that have been consistently in the way of new services being launched. Their policy against legitimate Internet distribution of multimedia content is one of the many policy reasons why I continue to refuse to be a BDU customer.

Back in 2012 I wrote two articles on my move away from legacy phone/cable companies and a submission to the CBC where they asked "What does "radio" and "television" mean to you?.

As an update I will list the legitimate sources of television content I currently use, and the illegitimate ones I do not.

Legitimate


  • By far the most television content I watch is via NetFlix. This is a service that is neutral to the Internet provider I choose, and works on nearly all of the devices that I own (Samsung SmartTV, Boxee Box, Chomebook, Chromecast, Android tablets and smartphones, desktop computers running Linux)
  • Next largest source is DVD, where the copyright holders are slowly getting better and releasing faster than they previously did. While some sources like HBO wait for 9+ months to release, others like the BBC will release seasons of shows less than 3 months after the series aires on television.
  • There is some content I try to access on broadcaster sites such as Space.ca, but they are poorly implemented and work on few of the devices I own. In the case of Space they even have an Android app, but it is so slow that its unusable. I am able to watch on my old desktop computer in the basement, but that is so inconvenient that I only bother for one specific show (Doctor Who). Space is one of the better sites, with other Canadian broadcaster websites being even less useable.
  • Over the Air -- we have ATSC digital tuners in our TVs, and I have an antenna for the TV upstairs. My wife sometimes watches this, but I find traditional broadcast television scheduling annoying. I have an ATSC tuner in one of my computers which I could program to record with PVR software, but I haven't found enough compelling content OTA to bother. This is available to watch breaking news if some event is happening I want to keep up on, which hasn't happened for me yet since I set this up in 2012.

Illegitimate

  • Copyright infringing online sources -- I keep being reminded by family and friends that all the content I want to access is available online moments after it airs on television. While I haven't refused to watch content with them in their homes, I refuse this option myself.
  • Traditional BDUs -- While I have friends and family who are subscribers to BDUs, and I don't refuse to watch content with them in their homes, I refuse this option myself. I consider the traditional BDUs to be opponents to Canadian Television, as well as being in a conflict of interest when it comes to the Internet. As policy opponents I refuse to pay them money (beyond what is mandated by corruption in government through monopolies in spectrum and last-mile wires), just as someone in the executive of the Conservative Party of Canada might refuse to make large political donations to the NDP and Liberals. (Actually, I suspect the Conservatives disagree with the Liberals and NDP on policy far less than I disagree with the BDUs, but that's a conversation to have over beer).
  • Tied selling services such as Shomi and CraveTV -- these are services I believe should be considered illegal under section 77 of Canada's Competition Act. The type of market manipulation that Bell, Rogers and Shaw are engaged in is exactly the type of wealth destroying behaviour that the Competition Act was created to stop. Unfortunately I suspect that this extremely harmful illegitimate behaviour is less likely to be prosecuted than the (in my opinion orders of magnitude less harmful) copyright infringement option.
(Note: Also Posted to Digital Copyright Canada)

Update: I should have noted the announcement: HBO to offer streaming-only online option in 2015. Here is to hoping that my inevitable posting next January about this issue will include the fact I've had months of enjoyment of the HBO service.