Digital Life


When will Catch Up TV be treated equally?

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The networks discriminate against us depending on our viewing device.

Australia's online Catch Up TV services are slowly finding mainstream acceptance as they're built into more and more mainstream entertainment devices such as televisions and Blu-ray players. Sony TVs and Blu-ray players will offer access to Ten's Catch Up TV offerings as of June, sitting alongside the SBS, Seven's Plus7 and the ABC's iView. Meanwhile some Samsung and LG gear offers access to iView and Plus7. Samsung is also introducing a Foxtel app, similar to the limited T-Box and Xbox 360 Foxtel services, which will even include some Olympic coverage.

The rise of all these new Catch Up TV options is exciting, until you sit down on the couch to watch them and realise the show you want is missing. Plus7 is perhaps the worst culprit, with the television/Blu-ray service offering far fewer programs than the browser-based service you can watch freely on your computer.

These restrictions are perhaps in part related to rights issues, but it's more likely that the commercial networks are determined to ensure that Catch Up TV poses no real threat to free-to-air -- especially when you're sitting in front of your television. The networks want to offer just enough to be able to claim they're giving the people what they want, without actually giving the people what they want. Then they wonder why people still turn to BitTorrent.

What's most frustrating is the seemingly arbitrary distinction between viewing devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, set-box boxes and televisions. Along with these you've got distinctions regarding how and where we watch content, with major players fighting some new technologies even though they fall within current copyright laws. Of course this has been highlighted by the Optus TVNow case and it's going to be interesting to see how next year's government review of copyright law plays out.

If the networks are giving away Catch Up TV anyway, why make it hard for us to watch it how we want to watch it? In actual fact they're not "giving" it away, because Catch Up TV services often include advertisements. So why not whack in a few ads and make the shows we want to watch available on AV gear as well as browsers? Why not build your audience rather than alienate it?

For years viewers have called on content providers to change their view of the world. To forget about the underlying technology, which is constantly evolving, and focus on what we can watch rather than how we watch it. Hopefully this is the approach that the review of Australian copyright law will take. Yet the major media players have been dragged into the internet age kicking and screaming, and are still caught up in the old world "we talk, you listen" broadcasting mentality.

A few years ago Australia started counting time-shifted content in the ratings results. Perhaps it's time to do the same with Catch Up TV. In some ways the Catch Up audience is more valuable, because viewers can't as easily skip the advertisements as they can when time-shifting on a PVR. Then again the networks do their best to foil our attempts at PVR time-shifting, so they're unlikely to give a stuff about Catch Up TV audiences.

You can't teach old dogs new tricks, but you can cut them out of the picture. How do you deal with broadcasting restrictions?