Imagine if the Sunday evening broadcast of one of the top drama series on TV failed to go ahead without explanation, with viewers left to stare at a static image for an hour. Pretty unthinkable, isn’t it? In fact, that’s exactly what happened yesterday evening. Of course, it didn’t happen on over-the-air broadcast TV. It happened on ITV’s catch-up TV offering, ITV Player. Viewers hoping to watch Downton Abbey through the online service saw only a message saying, “Coming Soon. Programmes are available 1–2 hours after broadcast.”
Usually, series such as Downton Abbey are available almost as soon as the live broadcast has ended on TV. Across the country, many people sat down intending to watch the programme shortly after 10:05pm only to find it wasn’t there. Many took to Twitter to air their views:
- @MattyRobinson56: slightly distraught Downton Abbey hasn’t been uploaded onto itvplayer yet
- @HollyMarshall94: Madly refreshing ITVPlayer to try and watch Downton Abbey. Technology I hate you! why can you not upload it online straight after it’s over.
- @jenridings: whyyyyy is Downton Abbey not on itv player yet #fuming
- @RebeccaGillie: PUT DOWNTON ON ITVPLAYER, YA B***ARDS! Spent all my weekend at work, and as Alma Cogan memorably said, little things mean a lot. #earnedthis
Some tweets asked the ITV Player team when it would go online, although it seemed they had already gone home for the night. And despite the message suggesting that programmes go online one to two hours after broadcast, Downton Abbey was not online until the following morning.
Such a thing would simply not happen in broadcast TV. If there was a problem, technicians at ITV would work swiftly to resolve the issue, and a message on screen would keep viewers up to date. The fact that ITV can think it doesn’t matter if a show isn’t on ITV Player as expected shows that they still don’t take catch-up TV or online viewing seriously. It’s still considered a novelty, a toy, a little extra where they can take it or leave it.
Some people would argue that online viewers are getting their TV for free. After all, they don’t need to pay for a TV licence. Quite apart from the fact that many people will have a TV licence, and are simply watching through one of the methods advertised as being available, ITV doesn’t actually receive any money from the licence fee. Their revenue comes from advertising, and ITV Player users still see adverts. In fact, I suspect a large proportion of people watching the live broadcast on ITV1 will actually do so via their PVRs, and skip through the commercials. ITV Player users don’t have this option as the fast forward button is disabled during the ads.
TV companies should be trying to move viewers online. Broadcast TV has had its day. There’s no reason people should still be tied into watching shows broadcast over the airways at a particular time. However, it’s already difficult to persuade many people to throw away their TV guides and reach for the catchup GUI instead, and if the broadcasters treat their catchup offerings as not even second best – as something with no service level guarantee, that can become unavailable without warning at their whim – they are never going to convince people that online is a viable way to catch their favourite shows.