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TV muddle

January 2016

Any company that existed before the internet did (such as newspapers and TV channels) is referred to glibly as a “legacy” business by the online whippersnappers, thus giving the impression that it is essentially moribund.  In fact, the opposite is usually true; it is often the older, bigger companies which are starting to make the most of the internet, after a slow start.

Mind you, there’s some way to go.  The television companies are a case in point; the huge growth in demand for watching television programmes using the internet is probably the biggest change in their businesses that they have ever had to tackle, and it’s currently a right old muddle of competing systems, applications and websites.

These days I rarely watch television live, except perhaps the news and sport.  Even then I will frequently use the internet as the means of access; the reception in the kitchen of the traditional television signal is dreadful, but the internet is fine.  However, the technicalities are a real mess. 

I can receive TV through two different conduits: the old way, using an aerial, or through the internet.  The internet signal is more versatile.  I can watch it on my Samsung TV or my laptop (on its own or projected through the TV); I can also use a NowTV or Roku internet box connected to any television.  Too much choice, already, but to make matters worse, the various channels work differently on the different gadgets. 

Take the BBC iPlayer, for example.  I can use it to watch live BBC using all four machines, with varying quality, but the recently introduced “watch from the start” function doesn’t work on Samsung TV.  It works on the others, but it’s only on my laptop can I pause or rewind when using it.  ITV is different; I can’t watch it live via the internet on my Samsung TV but I can watch their past programmes on everything.  Channel 4 only allows me to watch live on my laptop, and doesn’t appear at all on my Now TV box; Channel 5 is invisible to my Samsung TV when using the internet and anyway doesn’t allow live streaming on anything.

Roku BoxRemember, this may all have changed by the time you read this. Also, I am using just a handful of the many other options such as Freeview, FreeSat, Youview, BT TV, TalkTalkTV, SkyTV, Virgin TV and lots more.  No doubt they all have their own eccentricities.

Despite this bewildering array, I’m not complaining much; using my various gadgets, we find that we can watch all we want to watch (which isn’t much) both when and where we want to watch it, either free or at modest cost.  However, the limiting factor is that I am the only member of the family who can reliably find a way to make it happen.  It involves wading through a maze of buttons, leads, logins and passwords; not everyone’s idea of fun.

Clearly this is hopeless, and will have to change.  I’ve no doubt it will, as those disparaged “legacy” businesses flex their muscles and come into line with each other.  It must be in their interest to make their programmes available on every possible platform, but for the moment it is a dreadful jumble.

My sincere hope is that TV manufacturers will take control, do deals with everyone who pumps out TV programmes and build the appropriate widgets into their TVs.  Then we ought to be able to leave it to the TV to decide the best way for us to watch what we want, and we can just go back to enjoying what little there is that’s worth watching.