For all that video is the future of the web, few UK private sector companies seem to be managing it as well as the BBC. That’s certainly the case with 4OD, which, despite an early start, is noticeably less robust than iPlayer.
Now, as it happens, the E4/C4 programmes we watch are generally DVR-ed, so we have had little need to lean on it to date. However, until Damian told me about it, we entirely missed the newest retelling of the Arthurian legend, Camelot, currently airing on Channel 4. So we had to catch up on the first few episodes.
Generally speaking, the overall experience is significantly less slick than iPlayer for a number of reasons.
- On the same Internet connection (which is admittedly mediocre), caching takes place with intermittent irregularity. By which I mean, for no apparent reason, at random intervals, the video will stop whilst (presumably) the player catches up with content from the server. This very rarely happens with iPlayer for us, unless we’re watching something in high-definition.
- The picture quality is visibly crappier than iPlayer. Pixellation and artefacts are noticeable and distracting.
- No HD. Which is rubbish, really, given that the Beeb has it for all its tier 1 programming.
- It has an extremely shaky ad-insertion platform. First of all, 4OD has about three advertisers (Lynx, BT Vision and… 4OD during Camelot). Adverts for Camelot, available on 4OD (which is what we were watching), two versions of a BT Vision advert (sponsors of drama on C4) and an increasingly aggravating ‘premature perspiration’ advert from Lynx dry must have played a dozen times. Secondly, the ads force-play if you try to ‘resume play’ on a programme, which is just irritating (especially as you’ll have just seen them as they pre-roll before the show starts). Third, when watching episode two of Camelot, it skipped 20 minutes of vital exposition, having had someone presumably mistag what should happen after the second ad break.
On point 4) the mediocrity of the platform will likely keep sensible advertisers away. After all, if you know that your ad is going to end up annoying people through the frequency of play, why would you want that? Admittedly it does help with unprompted ad recall, but my affection for those brands is significantly diminished….
So, this is yet another reason I’m grateful for the BBC…