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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. 

Here's why...

ITV Player

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. 

Ineffective ads

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? 

Unreliable coverage

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:

Conclusion

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. 

Graham Charlton

Published 11 June, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (20)

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Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

Glad somebody has finally written about this. The ITV Player is the most useless piece of technology of the last 10 years.

When they announced the Euro2012 TV schedule my first thought was to see which games ITV were going to ruin for me.

It really is absolutely awful in every way. And as you say, connectivity seems to be fine everywhere else.

Why have the BBC been able to do this so well and yet ITV have done it so badly.

I am getting really annoyed just thinking about it!

almost 4 years ago

Jo Darby

Jo Darby, Digital Content Manager at Celesio

One of the things that prevent us from using ITV player is the only the BBC iPlayer is available through our smart TV and I'm told this is true for every smart TV on the market. Would love to be able to watch 4OD on a bigger screen than my laptop!

almost 4 years ago

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Clare O'Brien, Senior Industry Programmes Manager at IABSmall Business Multi-user

I think there's also a quality issue with ITV Player. Images appear less sharp but this could be the connectivity / server issues discussed above... yes?

In fairness to ITV - solely commercially funded - the BBC was able to invest extraordinary amounts of cash into its iPlayer project without being tethered to income ROI targets which are clearly being delivered by these kinds of advertising levels.

But even with these excuses, you'd expect a broadcaster of ITV's experience to be paying a little more attention to the the overall experience it's delivering to its audiences and care enough to apply just a hint of this to its other channels.

almost 4 years ago

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Clare O'Brien, Senior Industry Programmes Manager at IABSmall Business Multi-user

Jo: you can get 4OD and, I believe, ITV Player through BT Vision's service (and I think Virgin)...

almost 4 years ago

Timothy James Compton

Timothy James Compton, Digital Community Coach at Affinity Water Ltd

Really enjoyed reading this!
I used ITV Player for the first time this weekend and was really unimpressed. I couldn't get the live football on my laptop and had to watch it on my IPhone. The coverage was fine, but I was really surprised by the number of adverts. I have to confess that I did not watch any of the ads and wouldn't have considered interacting for fear of losing the stream and starting again!

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Timothy - you can, if you really want to, interact with the ads without losing the stream. Not that I wouldn't have tried if I didn't have the job I have.

almost 4 years ago

Jo Darby

Jo Darby, Digital Content Manager at Celesio

Clare - I think I'd need a software update in order to get them and I'm not sure our LG TV allows for that. I live with some pretty tech smart fellas and they can't fathom it. We all might be wrong though.

almost 4 years ago

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Conor Brennan

Agree with all the comments about ITV Player etc, but unless I'm missing something, I have found a simple workaround. On my iPhone, the app TV CatchUp. It's about 1 minute behind the live TV and granted I've only used it via WiFi and not 3G so I can't speak to the 3G quality but the only ad issues are one ad before streaming which you can skip. Works for me.

almost 4 years ago

Toby Kesterton

Toby Kesterton, Head of Digital at Lab Lateral

ITV needs to learn that Google is used as an equivalent to top navigation. This means that people will google ITV player to go straight to the ITV player section.

If the link to the England vs France is on the ITV homepage but not on the ITV player page LOTS of people will miss it!

p.s. This took my a couple of mins so when forced to watch compulsory ads after kick-off I hated every advertiser.

almost 4 years ago

Toby Kesterton

Toby Kesterton, Head of Digital at Lab Lateral

The rational behind more ads on the ITV player is that online ads pay 1/10th of TV ads.

However if you hate the ads they are not even worth that.

almost 4 years ago

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Tim Fifield

Completely agree with these comments. The potential is brilliant, I was quite excited about ITV Player on an iPad...then I used it...yerk. Let's assume the technology will get better and address the advertising issue. A delay in watching content (especially live events) is TOTALLY unacceptable. I cannot believe ITV's big thinkers can't blend a great watching experience with the needs of their advertisers. Even the occasional ticker tape style message would be better than crashing into jerky, inconsistent quality ads where I always have the sinking feeling that my content will not return after they've played out.

4OD seems to get this right, so why not ITV?

Makes you appreciate the BBC!

almost 4 years ago

Peter Wilson

Peter Wilson, Digital Strategy Manager at Sage UK

I can understand the commercial pressure that ITV will be under but agree the forcing of three ads before content felt a poor customer experience.

It is valuable content and we should expect to pay for it in some way, data for example, but the likelihood of us paying with data is seriously undermined by being beaten over the head with the ads.

Introduce a skip function? There's no value in ads that annoy and this would improve the experience.

Pete

almost 4 years ago

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Cameron Church

It's not very often I come out in defence of the the ITV Player. After 10 years on the front lines of online video I've seen some pretty terrible implementations of player experiences and the ITV player ranks up there.

However it does pay to examine the economics of Live Streaming paired with an ad funded payment model.

Live streaming, as opposed to Video on Demand, requires a persisted connection to every client in parallel. This is much different to a VoD model where, statistically, you have very few concurrent connections to any one piece of content at any one time. (it's for this reason you can't do a direct A/B comparison of BBC iPlayer and ITV Player unless both are showing live broadcast content).

This synchronised configuration leaves the provider open to almost uncontrolled risk if the a community swell develops and viewership grows exponentially (i.e. a viral consumption). There are some mechanisms available to the provider at the network layer that they can switch off new access (a velvet rope feature) however it then becomes a massive business decision to turn off a hugely popular stream!

The way CDNs price is by data transfer - the more viewers you have the more money you fork over ad infinitum - in traditional broadcast this doesn't exist as we all tap into the same airwaves.

With that in mind and the fact that CPMs for premium video like the Euros would fetch £30 gross you can do some quick math to see that a reasonable defence strategy would be to front load ad serving. It's crude but it can and does work for the FD and his/her spreadsheets. A large ad payload also acts as a filter and control mechanism as only the truly committed (or desperate) will push through to the end.

Unfortunately for ITV they are dreadfully behind in their plan to launch micropayments. Once that is in place then this all becomes much less risky for ITV (and its kin) as they can do bandwidth calculations and pass on usage directly to the viewer. But that requires a massive DNA therapy for the internal team at ITV who eat ads for breakfast and for the viewer who needs relative conditioning to accept this model. Thematically it's the HTTP -> HTTPS eCommerce transition all over again.

Yes ITV could really stand some lessons in user experience but in this case I think the costs of massive overrun of capacity outweighed yet another beating of their branded player.

-- Cameron Church

almost 4 years ago

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Kalexiko

ITV should look more into product placement advertising to generate revenue without frustrating it's viewers.

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Cameron Good to see someone speaking up for ITV Player.

I was comparing BBC and ITV for live streaming. I watched one live match on iPlayer without any problems at all.

I appreciate the behind-the-scenes difficulties that ITV has here, but I would question the effectiveness of ads which interrupt the user experience and are even more annoying when they are keeping said user from watching a match.

Surely a more effective method of delivering ads could be found?

Another point is that the user knows none of this and doesn't care about anything other than the user experience delivered by ITV. If it's poor, they won't return, and ad income will drop anyway.

almost 4 years ago

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Andrew Liddell, Ecommerce Business MGR at Personal

Has anyone noticed the third party recommendations on the iPlayer site? The BBC are now promoting 4OD and iTVPlayer content on the BBC site (under other channels and in the searches).

Not sure of the governing body or commission that would have forced this through, but its clear that the BBC iPlayer has been identified as a serious threat to the other networks and sign of where TV consumption is heading.

On demand catchup TV from the UK networks, Netflix and international channels.

Just tried the app, great idea with the interactive ads, shame no "airplay" while the content is playing.

almost 4 years ago

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Greg Caswell

If you are looking to watch live TV on your iPhone / iPad then I'd recommend you download the TVCatchup app. There is only one ad to see and you can bypass it really easily, and start watching live UK TV straight away.

almost 4 years ago

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Robert

Recently my Samsung TV updated itself to include ITVPlayer. The very same problems manifest themselves. Buffering issues. Looping issues. Advert issues. Blank screen issues. Sound quality issues. Jamming issues.

In contrast BBC’s IPlayer – also on the same Samsung TV, works 100%.

My advice to anyone thinking of using a Smart TV with an ITVPlayer app built in is: seriously, avoid. You’ll end up tearing your hair out. It really is as bad as the Commenters here suggest.

over 3 years ago

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Random

I think that there shouldn't be any adverts o. Itv player as I just want to quickly catch up on what I've missed but the I have to sit through all the adverts as well Adam if the problem doesn't get fixed then I won't ever use itv player!!!!

over 3 years ago

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Random

I think advert ruin it get rid of em!!!!!!!

over 3 years ago

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