Jim Louderback

November 14, 2009

TV Anywhere: Up Poop Creek Without a Paddle

Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 2:48 pm

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.

11 Comments »

  1. Net Neutrality anyone? No, I understand the hotel and cafe limiting video streaming. Unjust, sure? Understandable, yeah. Mom and pop are just trying to sell some lattes, not become an ISP.

    Solution? Well, yeah if you’ve got your hacker hat on you could SSH into the secure shell on your dedicated server. You do have a dedicated server, and an SSH client, right? From there you could create a SOCKS5 proxy to tunnel your Internet traffic. Your application supports SOCKS5 proxies, right? Of course not, but with your hacker hat on you can create a local proxy that tunnels it anyway, right? That’s what open source apps like netcat are for.

    So anyway, about 50 lines of code, a few background processes and a seemingly simple proxy later we’ve got…. BUFFERING. Yeah, sorry about that, the overhead of the net-hackery must be clogging up the bandwidth.

    Don’t get me wrong, I want TV everywhere too. And I don’t want to resort to hacks either. Such is the state of IPTV I guess. =/

    Comment by Darren Kitchen — November 14, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  2. Isn’t that an IP-related problem? In Europe, you cannot watch Hulu, even with Hotspot Shield (which gives you an US-IP) isn’t not that great.

    Comment by George — November 14, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

  3. Wow. Highly illustrative. MSO/telco/satellite are not prepared to address the details as they pertain to the internet. Walled garden folks, they are.

    Comment by John Fitzpatrick — November 14, 2009 @ 10:24 pm

  4. American HHotels typically don’t block either Flash or bittorrent, at least not the Hiltons and Sheratons I tend to stay in.

    Comment by Fanfoot — November 14, 2009 @ 10:53 pm

  5. TV almost anywhere. You’re right, blocking will always be an issue.

    Comment by Michael Tapp — November 15, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  6. I had similarly unsatisfying experience two months ago in Italy except my issue involved licensing. Though I paid DirectTv a premium price for SuperCast, I came to find out that does not hold NFL streaming distribution rights in Europe. As a die-hard Saints fan, I was not a happy consumer!

    The ‘Video Web’ requires a different set of rules than traditional ‘Pay TV’ models.

    I look forward to hearing you speak later today at Streaming Media West and hope to get a chance to meet in person.

    Comment by Anthem Blanchard — November 17, 2009 @ 5:09 am

  7. класс)мне понра)особенно!

    Comment by Скайнет — December 19, 2009 @ 6:17 am

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    Comment by asvk — December 20, 2009 @ 6:01 am

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    Comment by Катастрофа — December 20, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

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