While I laud the concept of TV Anywhere – or the ability to watch the cable channels you’ve paid for anywhere you happen to be - a recent experience with an early version proved disastrous, and leads me to believe the entire premise is flawed. Read on, because the reasons are entirely unobvious, but extremely insidious.
Last weekend I flew to France, to get a jump on jetlag prior to participating at the Monaco Media Forum. Rather than immediately go to the incredibly pricey Monaco, I opted to spend two nights in the Southern France city of Avignon. I arrived Sunday night, just in time to catch my favorite football team, the New England Patriots, take on the wildcat-wielding Miami Dolphins.
Waitaminute, I can see you European-savvy American football fans exclaim. You can’t watch the NFL in semi-rural southern France. That was the case a few years ago, but not anymore, at least theoretically for me. That’s because I subscribe to Sunday Ticket via DirecTV, which now includes a cool feature called SuperCast. Supercast lets me watch the games I’ve paid for each Sunday, streamed to my PC. That means I could be anywhere in the world, and watch any of the Sunday NFL games.
It’s a narrow slice of TV Anywhere. I’ve paid big bucks for years for the right to watch my beloved Patriots at home in San Francisco, and now that extends to anywhere with an internet connection. Or so I thought.
Before leaving home, I loaded up the SuperCast application. It’s built on Adobe’s AIR platform, sort of like Flash on steroids. I tested it out the weekend before, and everything worked just fine.
So there I was, jetlagged, up 30 hours with no sleep, ready to watch the Patriots, and hit the sack. My hotel has free WiFi, so I was all set. Or so I thought.
I fired up the SuperCast application, but it wouldn’t load. OK, maybe there was a problem. So instead I opted to try the browser-based SuperCast version. That, too, failed with a message asking me to load the latest version of Flash. Although I thought everything was up to date, I re-installed flash and tried again.
Again, no dice. A closer look, and it turns out that my hotel WiFi, via France telecom provider Orange, was blocking video streaming. And also anything that smells even vaguely like peer to peer, like Skype and Bit Torrent. And those were the two things I was trying to do – since the Air version of Supercast has peer to peer elements built in, while the browser version uses flash.
Even YouTube wouldn’t work, which meant that I probably was out of luck. At least in the hotel. But I was determined to watch the game, so I headed out into the night to find a café with WiFi. I quickly found one – but ran into the same problems. So for the next hour I ping-ponged from café to café, with similar results. I ended up parking at the best hotel in town, the Hotel Europa, and hopped on their restricted WiFi – but still nothing worked.
I finally got at least something working, via an application called Hotspot Shield – which lets you overcome the limitations of public internet access. Unfortunately, it was so slow that watching anything was impossible. A little more digging, and I found out that many, many other DirecTV customers have had similar problems – and I wasn’t going to solve them in time to watch the game. So I gave up and headed off to bed, football fix unfulfilled.
The good news is that the Patriots killed the Dolphins. The bad news is that my experience should give pause to promoters of TV Everywhere. Let’s say the cable and satellite companies get the authentication and authorization details together, and figure out how to stream the channels you’ve already paid for directly to your notebook or phone.
Sure, it’ll work around the house, and maybe at work – although I’d expect some major blocking to go on there too. But out and about viewing – whether travelling for work or on vacation – is where TV Everywhere should also work. But if my experience is any guide, it’s going to be a disaster. And that will end up souring many on the whole concept. Everywhere means wherever I happen to be. Unfortunately, my TV will not follow.