The future of TV is nearly here, but it won't be "free"
Chances are reasonably good that you’re a pay TV subscriber, or know someone who is. If you’re not, the odds are pretty high you’ve invested in a digital set top box (or digital ready TV). The bad old days of 1-5 channels (depending on where you live) are truly behind us. Meanwhile, both free to air and pay TV are gearing up for the next “big thing”. It’s not digital TV as the Freeview ads would have you believe it, but instead direct TV delivery over the Internet, sometimes referred to as IPTV.
You can already get a taste of how IPTV could work through services like Channel 7’s Plus7, Channel 9’s Fixplay, Foxtel’s Downloads and ABC TV’s iView platforms. They’re not even limited to your internet-connected computer, with several TV makers offering Channel 7 options, and ABC’s iView available through the Playstation 3 console. Fire up a web browser and go to the relevant site and a wealth of Internet-delivered TV goodies are yours for the viewing.
There’s a couple of minor catches with these approaches. First of all, they play pretty much exclusively in the “catch up” space. Most of them work off time limited availability of recently run programs. Great if you’ve missed the last episode of 24, but only within a week or two. Some older programs are available on a consistent basis, but the quality varies. Not so much the quality of the programs, as tastes may vary, but the quality of the encoding used to convert them. Sitting down with Channel 7’s Plus7 to enjoy an episode or two of the genuinely classic Father Ted, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of blockiness and digital artefacts making the experience a lot less compelling than it should be.
There are solutions on the horizon that may fix the “Catch Up” nature of these services. A company called FetchTV is promising up to 20 channels and a video on demand service over the Internet to be launching this year. iiNet’s already signed up to deliver the service, which is expected to cost “under $30” per month. $30 per month might sound like a lot for Internet-delivered TV, and they’ll certainly have to iron out quality and speed of delivery issues, especially with the woeful speeds that many Australians have to suffer through.
The big issue with IPTV is that you’re likely to be paying for it either way. iiNet’s said that they won’t count FetchTV content against a user’s data cap, but then they’ll be getting $30 (or more) of your hard earned cash upfront. A handful of ISPs (including Internode, iPrimus, Adam and iiNet) offer iView unmetered, but it’s really the exception rather than the rule. For everyone else’s services, you’ll pay in the form of your data allowance. A typical program may chew up hundreds of megabytes of download allowance, but as they’re really streaming rather than downloading, you’ll be using up that data without being able to easily re-watch downloads at a later date. If you’re on a plan that charges for excess data, that could get expensive fast, and even those on capped plans that drop speed may find a large part of their month’s service at crawling rates if they get too keen on Desperate Housewives.