Tag Archives: iPlayer

Google Chromecast UK review

2014-03-31 23.39.16I’ve been looking forward to the UK release of Google’s Chromecast device for such a long time now that I’d considered buying a US version and shipping it over. However I was delighted to see them go on general sale in the UK late last week.

Chromecast is Google’s answer to Apple TV, providing a number of services (or apps in fashionable parlance) such as iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube to a standard television. There’s no remote control – you use your phone or tablet (either iOS or Android) to control the device.

And the device is tiny. It looks like a slightly larger USB stick, but with an HDMI plug at the end, to connect into the back of your TV.

Continue reading Google Chromecast UK review

2012 favourites

For the last couple of years (2011 and 2010) I’ve listed my highlights of the previous year. Continuing the tradition, here are the highlights of 2012.

Favourite new gadget

iPlayer on the Xbox is simply superb. You don’t need the handset at all – just switch on the Xbox, use Kinect to fire up the iPlayer app and choose a programme, and then it’s voice activated from then on. It’s also the only way to watch programmes in HD on iPlayer.

Battlefield 3 has been my favourite game of the year so far, although I haven’t played the latest Call of Duty Black Ops 2 yet.

I installed Windows 8 at the start of the year on a Virtual PC and liked it a lot. Some of the staff at Endava are using it as their primary operating system. I haven’t done that yet because I haven’t had the time to spend a couple of days transferring everything from Windows 7 to 8 – backing up, restoring and all that.

However I have moved over to Office 2013. It’s super stable (I’m still using the Preview release)and there’s a few new features (such as opening and working in PDF documents) and it’s just ‘nicer’ to use.

Favourite book

I started reading Bear Grylls’ autobiography Mud, Sweat & Tears, and couldn’t put the thing down. I don’t read particularly quickly, but three days after picking it up I’d finished it. It’s one of those books where you wish it was longer. Bear has had a remarkable journey so far, and I share some of his values – the outdoors and Scouts being prime examples. Definitely worth a read.

Chris Hoy’s autobiography was also enjoyable. I received some feedback about last year’s favourites all relating to cycling, so I won’t go into any more detail about the book here!

Favourite iPhone app

Continuing the don’t-mention-cycling theme, Strava is my favourite app of the year. It’s brilliant. Strava records all your cycle journeys, split’s them into ‘segments’ such as a stretch of a single road, or even a mile long set of roads, and then compares all the cyclists (or runners) who have travelled that segment. It turns your commute and weekend rides into an addictive competition.

After Apple completely messed up maps, there was a void left with free, decent, mapping apps and after my summer holiday to Israel where I found M8, it’s my favourite app for car journeys.

Favourite award

I’m truly honoured to have won Sitecore Site of the Year for the second year running. This year’s award went to The Open, and I know how hard the team at Endava work on the site both year-round, and during the event. A huge well done to all the team.


Steve Ballmer showcasing Kinect

One of my favourite pieces of technology is Kinect. Until you’ve used it, it’s difficult to believe that this level of technology exists, let alone for under $200.

My preferred BBC iPlayer device is the XBox – it’s voice controlled, easily the nicest menu structure to use, and has HD – but most importantly, it works on my TV and I still don’t like watching long formats on my laptop or desktop.

Windows 8 has been released, and I’m suspicious of it’s heavy reliance on touch screens. My monitors at work and home are already dirty enough, and I try not to touch the screens already.

If I had to swipe a web page with my fingers after eating a sandwich and bag of crisps, it would be revolting!

I don’t know how I originally missed this video of Steve Ballmer and the Kinect team demonstrating features which are already live, but it gives some further insight into the future of entertainment, whether it’s video games or television or work devices – the term PC doesn’t seem correct in this context.

The best video player


So the Olympics are finally here. 7 years ago and around 9 billion quid later, we got to see an opening ceremony that was educational, humorous and grand (how did they convince the Queen to do that?), and a first day full of world records, surprises and disappointments. Fantastic.

On the digital media side, we’ve seen the BBC revamp their homepage (which became the same template as their microsites), and the video player has slowly been improving too. But when the Olympics started for real, the BBC video player sprang to life.

First, some background.

I don’t really subscribe to the second screen theory – I’ve seen some crazy stats that TV viewers use related apps on their mobile or tablet, to what they’re watching.

I do believe people (especially my family) sit on the sofa on their iPhone playing games or on Facebook – unrelated to the TV programme they’re watching.

We’ve seen interactive TV in various shapes and sizes. From crude red-button implementations (e.g. Sky Bet) to TV apps which mimic a web browser interface.

I’ve seen demos of TV apps which allow you to tweet or watch a Facebook activity feed during a programme – really annoying and disruptive.

However the BBC video player for the Olympics provides the perfect level of interaction, additional – read ‘relevant’ – information. Then throw in PVR-style functionality (for non-techies – it’s like Sky+ with rewind, etc.)

I watched the Tour de France on the ITV website and sometimes it was frustrating not knowing who was in the lead and the peloton – I wasn’t necessarily interested in specific positions, but you need to know if the camera is with the leaders or not.

The BBC player shows event information and allows you to look at a summary of a specific athlete as well. All in HD.

Here’s to the next fortnight, with super weather and medals galore for Team GB!

TV version 1, 2 and 3


For the last few weeks Mrs H and I have been watching TV programmes almost exclusively using on-demand services. We have BT Vision at home, which includes a comprehensive iPlayer ‘application’ as well as catch-up players for the other channels.

I often refer to catch up players/ on demand television as TV version 3. Version 1 was standard, or linear television… switch the box on to any channel, sit back and watch it.

Version 2 was the invention of the Personal Video Recorder, or PVR. No tapes were required, yet you could instantly record or pause live television. In the US, PVRs took off with Tivo, and in the UK they took off with Sky+.

TV v3 is very different though – you sit down and then choose which programme you want to watch. There’s absolutely no planning involved. There’s also no monetisation… there are no adverts whatsoever.

For the BBC iPlayer this doesn’t make any difference because if you watch a BBC channel there’s no monetisation in the first place. Though watching any other channel such as ITV, Channel 4 or 5, or Discovery – it’s very strange to watch a 44 minute programme in… 44 minutes, without using a DVD.

If you watch the ITV player online (i.e. on a computer), they ‘hard code’ (you can’t skip them or speed them up) advertising breaks into the programme.

Perhaps the audience using the TV to watch catch up programmes is small – which is a real irony in itself.

I think it’s one of the reason why product placement on TV programmes is becoming so important. For the last few years – since TV version 2, we’ve been skipping through ad breaks, and with version 3 we don’t see them at all, so advertising needs to move inside the programme.

On “I’m a Celebrity…” next year, start getting used to the idea of the contestants wearing branded clothes, drinking specific beers in the evening and seeing low flying jumbo jets overhead!

Photo courtesy of cmun_project on Flickr

Defending the licence fee


Photo courtesy of Marco Bernardini on Flickr

The public (and press) are too quick to criticise the BBC for the licence fee. I’ve said before that I think we get fantastic return on investment for our £150 a year – with top quality radio, TV and Internet content.

This week though, I got another pleasant surprise from the BBC. Despite having a two year old flat screen TV without the latest Internet-apps capability, I pressed the red button whilst watching one of the BBC channels because I saw ‘iPlayer’ on the red button prompt.

And there it was – iPlayer. On my TV.

So I browsed around and started watching something from iPlayer on the TV. Completely on demand, with pass and play functionality – everything you get from the website equivalent.

The impressive-ness of the experience was that iPlayer was streaming content over the Internet on to my TV without me realising that the TV could do it!

Quality is OK – although Mrs H didn’t find it a problem, I could see that the bandwidth needs to be increased to give a TV-quality experience.

So a round of applause to the BBC for once again delivering something beyond expectation. A special commendation should go to Panasonic of course for also delivering beyond expectation! And both for doing it without increasing the cost.

iPlayer downtime last night


Last night I sat down with the wife to watch Top Gear. We realised we hadn’t recorded it, so we went to iPlayer to watch it. Unfortunately iPlayer was down last night, presenting a rather humble and plain looking ‘403 Error’.

We look after some rather large sites at Endava, and I can only imagine what the poor techies at the BBC were going through last night – undoubtedly trying to roll back the latest code or environment changes, or work out where the extra traffic was coming from (simultaneously trying to work out what to do with it).

At times like that, I think that I think differently to other users – I start feeling sorry for the service provider (and specifically, the individuals there) rather than a ‘typical’ consumer complaining about where the service has gone.

The infamous England goal during the World Cup was the same – as soon as the advert on ITV HD came on during matchplay, my stomach curled up and I thought “someone feels really bad for this” – despite me missing out on the England goal at the time… although I must add that the conspiracy theorist in me questions whether it was a publicity stunt or not.

A client (who came from a traditional TV background) once said to me that the difference between the web and TV is that TV never goes down. With iPlayer on my TV at home – is that still really true?

Micro micro payments – the future of content


Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik

Last September I gave an opening speech to the English Premiership clubs discussing loyalty and the future economy of content.

On the latter subject, my personal view is that content cannot stay free for the long term. Our children will look back on the web and ask us what is was like living in a bubble of free video (iPlayer), free radio (any radio station’s website/ iPhone app), free high quality music (Spotify), free text content (over 99% of websites), free storage (YouTube, Flickr, etc.), free search (Google, etc.) – it’s all free free free. I think we will answer our children by saying “Yes, it was a pretty cheap time – companies advertised on these sites, and we thought that covered the costs” – at least, this is the public’s perception.

So what will replace this massive amount of free content and free applications?

At the Premiership event I said that in the future we will have some sort of e-wallet, and each web page that you navigate to, and each search will take fractions of a penny out of your wallet. Listening to music might cost a little more, and video might cost a little more than video. The funds from your e-wallet will be redirected in part to your ISP and a part to the content owner. A bit like local and premium rate phone numbers – some money goes to the telco provider, and some to the company who picks up the phone. My gut feel is that a regular user will spend £10-20 (in today’s money) per month on this e-wallet.

That was all last September, and this week there was an article on TechCrunch (thanks to James at Endava for pointing this out) which described a new service called Flattr, which will adopt a similar-ish model. Flattr’s model is more proactive though – the content owner needs to install a Flattr button, and the user needs to press the button for funds to go to that owner. It’s a start though.

The future – live events funding free content?

Major League Baseball team the New York Mets are suffering falling attendances, despite the attraction of their new $800 million stadium, Citi Field..

The New York Times reports that the average attendance so far this season, after 22 home matches, is 31,892, compared to 38,744 last season. The 18-per-cent drop is puts the Mets second in percentage terms in falling MLB attendances this season. The Cleveland Indians are down 30 per cent on their last year’s average, although this translates to a loss of only 6,585 fans a game, less than the Mets’ 6,852.

Bad weather and poor performances by the Mets are being blamed.

“The problem is last year the tickets were really expensive and the team stunk and that can really stick with fans for a while,” said Jon Greenberg, the executive editor of Team Marketing Report, a sports industry research company.

Greenberg said a trend of new stadiums boosting ticket sales that was evident in the 1990s had tailed away.

“Stadium fatigue sets in much faster than it did before.”

The Mets cut ticket prices by up to 20 per cent after last season – their first at Citi Field – in an effort to pre-empt the “stadium fatigue”. However its monthly report to the MLB’s commissioner’s office in March, showed ticket sales had dropped 40 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

via sportbusiness.com

With more and more content appearing free, or nearly free of charge – such as Spotify and iPlayer, there is a widespread opinion that live events will become more popular.

There are more music concerts than ever before, and these are likely to remain premium, high ticket cost (with a huge reliance on revenue from merchandise and other outlets at the venue).

However, American sport is the first report that I’ve seen which shows that even live events are being hit. This may be due to the recession last year, and this article suggests it’s also to do with team performances.

If I was a media owner distributing my content for free, this article may provide some worrying evidence of having to find yet another business model.

Talking About a Virtual Revolution

The BBC have been showing a TV documentary over the last few weekends called Virtual Revolution discussing the origins of the Internet, as well as the issues it currently faces (commercialisation, IP & ownership).

I’ve been quite surprised about how few people in the industry have seen the programme, or even knew anything about it.

It’s presented very well by the natural-born-presenter Dr Aleks Krotoski who judging from her Twitter feed is clearly passionate and proud of the series. Some parts are presented over-simplistically to anyone who has some level of knowledge of the industry, but even then, every few minutes there are some thought provoking comments from the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Tim Berners-Lee, Krotski and many others.

Well worth a watch on iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search/?q=The%20Virtual%20Revolution