The Future of Online Television is here. Isn’t it?

“You don’t have NETFLIX?!!! You guys still have to go to the video store and rent movies??”

THIS is a direct quote (exclamations and all) from a friend of mine, Anne who hails from Pittsburgh, PA. It was in response to me, unaware of the gravity of the statement I was about to make, mentioning that I thought Netflix sounded like a good idea. Apparently this was the understatement of the year. Via email, my lovely American friend began to count the ways that I might be able to stream movies and TV shows from the internet using various devices and subscriptions.

I would consider myself fairly plugged into techie goings-on but when it comes to ‘TV-On-Demand’ and various idiot box devices, I can’t claim to be an authority. From what I can tell, the only legal way to view programmes online in Ireland is via the RTÉ Player which has now been upgraded to allow streaming of live broadcasts. I personally haven’t found much need for the RTÉ Player, not that it isn’t a valuable service, but with my trusty Sky box I pre-record most of the shows or movies I want to watch in advance. I thought I was a minority in this but in fact TGI data reveals that less than 4% of the Irish adult population avails of the RTÉ Player service.

There are other options of course such as renting or buying movies from iTunes and then stream to a TV set via the Apple TV device. However, television series are still not available from iTunes in Ireland and if a brief survey among my friends is in any way indicative of online viewing habits, then buzz worthy TV shows are the main content streamed or downloaded. I myself am the nonchalant owner of a Samsung Blu-Ray player with Internet@TV capabilities but the Playstation 3 and countless other devices offer similar services whereby you can access the internet to locate videos you wish to view.

Most US networks and the BBC iPlayer in the UK upload the most recent episodes of all their programmes once they have been broadcast and so technically this would be the quickest and easiest way to get your impatient mitts on content. Yet unless dubious actions are undertaken beforehand, Irish IP addresses are blocked from viewing this content like the nerd banished from the cool kid’s party.

So as I see it, the main issue acting as a barrier to ‘TV-On-Demand’ or internet television being adopted is a lack of one source or database for quality content. At the moment, in Ireland, if you want to stream or download videos you have to rely on Google to throw up hosting sites which act as a hub for other websites. The technology and the devices to harness that technology are available but what is needed for it to be fostered and popularized is a service like Netflix that makes searching and locating videos as seamless and easy as flicking through stations.

While I don’t completely abstain from getting my entertainment kicks from an online source and can count myself among the 48% of the population that makes use of online video sites, this is not my main or preferred method of entertainment. I am still someone who enjoys the ‘experience’. Unlike Anne in Pittsburgh, I relish going to my local Xtravision and browsing the titles, even asking the opinion of the resident horror movie geek there. And I also tolerate sitting in front of the inevitable seat-kicker just so I can soak in the atmosphere of the cinema. Until there is a device AND online service that provides me with easy access to quality service and content, then I am happy to stand by my beloved Sky+ box, much to Pittsburgh Anne’s astonishment.

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-Catherine Clifford


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