ITV recently added live streaming to its apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod, just in time for Euro 2012.
I have used both iPlayer and the ITV Player iPhone apps over the past few days, and iPlayer wins hands down.
Too many ads
One major problem with the ITV Player app, as with its desktop version, is the number of ads you have to view before getting to the content.
Of course, unlike the BBC, ITV has to generate some revenue from its online and mobile services, but I think it is going about this the wrong way.
For one thing, if you choose to view a football match on ITV Player, you will see more ads than if you had watched on TV. Why?
Also, the Player makes you watch several ads before you can begin viewing, even if the match has already started. Six in this case:
Let's face it, could there be a better way to annoy a user by making them watch three minutes of ads before they can view a match that has already kicked off?
Are those ads likely to be effective? I doubt it. They are just an obstacle standing between the user and what they actually want to do.
Aside from the point that ads as obstacles are unlikely to be very successful, the interactive element of these ads works very poorly on mobile.
As you can see on the screenshot above, you can tap to find out more. Let's say, as I'm waiting to watch the match I want to find out more about Carlsberg, here's what I get:
Thanks to the EU cookie law, we have this message obscuring much of the screen, but the bigger point is that the ad has not been optimised for mobile.
As such, even if I really wanted to sign up and find out more, I can't since the date entry boxes have been obscured:
Other ads aren't as obviously unsuited to mobile as this one, but they all lead to pages which haven't been designed for mobile, which means most of this interactivity is pointless.
If you're going to add response mechanisms for ads like this, then you have make sure that they work for the device the user is on. If you can't do this, why bother?
This is not a new issue for ITV Player. I experienced similar frustrations with the quality of the coverage of the last World Cup.
I tried on both 3G and my home wi-fi network, and though the quality of the stream was fine most of the time, I had repeated messages saying, amongst other things, that I didn't have enough bandwidth:
This is annoying enough, since everything else (YouTube, iPlayer etc) worked well enough on the same network, but in reloading the player, I ended up back at the start, having to view my allocation of ads again before the football could begin.
In the space of 30 minutes, I viewed about 10 minutes of ads and 20 of football, which means I won't use ITV Player again if I can help it.
Judging by a quick Twitter search, I'm not the only one who had difficulties last night:
By contrast, I watched the second half of the Netherlands v Denmark game on my iPlayer mobile app on a 3G connection without a single glitch. While the BBC obviously benefits from not having to have ads, there is still much that ITV can learn from its rival.
It needs to make sure the quality of the live stream is high enough to deal with spikes, and work across several devices. Of course, if 3G connections are variable, there's little ITV can do about that, but in my experience there have been issues even when broadband coverage is excellent.
Then there's ads. I don't see why ITV has to make online and mobile viewers watch more ads, and then to insist that these are pre-roll. I'm not sure how ITV measures the impact of these ads, but I'd bet they aren't very effective.
ITV should be applauded for trying to give its viewers lots of choice on how they view its content, but I fear that many new users attracted by the Euro 2012 coverage will be deterred thanks to a poor user experience.