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Why Television and Radio Won’t Die

Last night I started watching The Wolverine. Before you judge, let me state that it happened to be on Amazon Prime, and I’ve read, re-read and indeed re-purchased the Wolverine Graphic Novel after mistakenly lending it to people over the years.

It was late and I was weak.

In fact it was late enough that about half of the way through the film I decided to take a break and get some sleep. So when I stopped working to grab some lunch today, it seemed like a good time to finish the film off. Except that I couldn’t.

The process went something like this:

  • Go to Amazon Prime Video and search for Wolverine, as the main pages only want to show me new films/TV shows.
  • Click to view.
  • Wait ages.
  • Get a Silverlight error message.
  • Try again.
  • Get the same Silverlight error message.
  • Sigh deeply, then go to Settings, and select the Flash player.
  • Go back to Amazon Prime Video and get a Silverlight error message. Return to settings, and back to the video and then it loads in Flash.
  • Watch approximately 2-3 minutes of the film with 60 second intervals for it to buffer.
  • Go back to Settings, revert to Silverlight and spend a minute or two reading the Troubleshooting Guide.
  • Download the Silverlight Diagnostic Tool as recommended and watch as it fails to find the problem.
  • Restart Router. Restart PC.
  • Realise that I’ve finished my lunch and gone way over the time I’d planned to spend.
  • Cry a little inside.
  • Decide to give it one last try just to see what happens. Silverlight etc doesn’t have a problem, but in the process I seem to be watching the film from the beginning again
  • Cry a little more inside.

And this is exactly why broadcast television and radio won’t die.

Television

In order of problems viewing:

  • Amazon Instant Video – 1-2 problems per month
  • Virgin Media Digital Box – 1 problem every few months
  • Broadcast TV and Radio – I can remember 1 problem when someone stole cabling supplying one of the transmitters in Peterborough a few years ago.

But it’s not as simple as blaming Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or Youtube for a poor video experience.

Or Silverlight, Flash or HTML5.

Or Virgin, Sky, BT or other ISPs.

Or someone else in the house using a different device for gaming, streaming or downloading Wikipedia en masse.

Or all the neighbours deciding this is the exact time they all want to stream something as well.

Because the problem with internet television and radio is that it could be any part of the chain that causes an issue, and generally it’s down to the individual to figure it out.

The rationale is easy to understand – no service can provide effective troubleshooting for every individual combination of internet, viewing device and browser. But even as someone who has picked up reasonable technical knowledge over the years, it’s a massive pain in the arse.

Is it the software, the browser, the PC,  the wifi, the router, or the ISP? The diagnostics told me it was Silverlight, my observations were that my connections seemed to be running slowly, and restarting an entirely different piece of hardware fixed everything, and Silverlight runs fine again.

*facepalm*

Meanwhile I can turn on a television or radio in a matter of seconds and enjoy whatever is available with simplicity and reliability. And if there’s a problem viewing, it’s either:

  • The TV is broken. Replace.
  • The transmitter is broken.
  • The end of the world has begun.

I love streaming films, TV and music on-demand, and accessing shows and artists I’d have never discovered and spent money on. But it’s hard to defend something which takes a working knowledge of IT to operate.

It’s why I worry about Net Neutrality, and the horrific idea that the EU could be moving towards accepting a two-tier internet. Access to a decent broadband speed is an infrastructure required by everyone – without it you limit the ability of individuals and startups in favour of the dominant players being able to mask the fact their services are inefficient.

It’s why I worry about curbing the BBC as a free-to-air service which is able to share information, education and news to anyone regardless of their devices or ISP.

And it’s why a part of me worries every time Spotify unveils new features, or Amazon tries to deliver a new technological innovation. Because it means that there are less people working in the boring ‘Just make it work’ department.

Years ago, I would have happily predicted the imminent demise of print and broadcast media in favour of digital services. All this time later, and I’m still waiting for something approaching reliability to make it conceivable.

On the plus side, the original comics are still awesome. And still work perfectly 33 years after they were first released.

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No Wonder Spotify Needs More Data…

So Spotify has been experiencing a backlash after updating the terms and conditions of their service to access more user data. As always, the outcry will be short-lived unless the small percentage of paying users like myself actually stop a meaningful number of subscriptions.

But it’s made me look again at the ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist that is automatically generated for me and it’s no wonder Spotify needs more data.

  • 30 songs.
  • And 11 or 12 of them I can immediately spot are artists I already have in playlists.
  • 2 or 3 are songs I already have in playlists.
  • And from the rest, another 3 or 4 are songs I wouldn’t put in a playlist in you paid me.

So the success rate in actually finding me something I want to discover is less than 1 in 3. And this is the entertainment data revolution.

You could find a similar success rate by randomly throwing charity shop CDs into a plastic bag and taking them home…

Instead of trying to collate more data, it’d be easier if Spotify just integrated a decent personal recommendation service, like the now-closing ThisIsMyJam. And not keep rolling out a more and more bloated desktop client which has a new version to download almost daily at this point…

On the plus side, the Fresh Finds playlist is still pretty interesting, and there’s the un-algorithmically bollocksed list of New Releases.

Meanwhile Amazon works on the theory that if I’ve watched one police drama via Instant Video, that’s likely to be all I ever want to watch in the future, and Youtube can only recommend a random selection of Vice Media documentaries and the last two American standup comedians I watched. Watching 20 minutes of Amy Schumer apparently means I need to see six interviews with her from American TV shows.

Basically all the data, privacy and information we’re freely giving to large companies results in recommendations as helpful as throwing a dart across the room at an open TV guide.

Meanwhile I finally got around to buying a CD of a live tour I went to see about 7 or so years ago…

VarsityDrag

I’ll look forward to seeing it start appearing in recommendations across all my usual music and entertainment services in about 6 months time….