There are lots of streaming apps for TV shows and films nowadays, and more and more are coming. I think that’s good – it offers more choice to subscribers and ideally would make the market better. It does have its downsides though: In this post I’ll focus on The Myriad Apps that come along with such services.
There are apps on my TV. Yes, yes, TVs are for watching shows and films on, but for some reason apps are the way we collectively decided to go. I’m not sure why as it just makes things incredibly difficult and annoying.
There are apps on my phone. Yes, yes, despite the fact that everything is being connected to the internet now for some reason one of the most prolific internet applications of all – WWW – has fallen out of fashion.
Apps crash, they go out of date, they can be slow, you have no control over the (often terrible) UI designs… But the worst bit is you need an app for every separate service you want to use. And if your device doesn’t have the necessary app then you’re up a creek without a paddle.
Sure, for a TV the company will sell you a cheap Wi-Fi to HDMI dongle, and then you can just plug and play. yay! Problem solved. Except… it isn’t – everything on the dongle is running apps too – and you now have an additional problem of having to juggle potentially many hardware devices as well as software.
In any other tech sphere what often happens when you have all these competing ideas which ends up just making things more difficult on the end customer?
You standardise. Define common points of entry, common APIs, common formats.
If there was one common way of easily adding a service then all you need to know is a URL, and optionally identifiers like a username and password for paid services.
You could use this in to an OS-native app and get access to the best video decoders for your hardware – maybe your concern is lengthening your device’s battery life or making full use of the UHD capability of your TV. You wouldn’t need to worry about any support other than for your OS itself (though that’s a whole separate concern). You wouldn’t need to sign up to app stores or worry if a given app supported the device you were about to buy.
You could choose to instead use a community built interface which lets you customise everything to your desire – maybe you have very specific subtitle requirements or just want to support an open implementation. You would have full control over the services that your data gets sent to, and could work together to identify and fix problems.
You wouldn’t need to switch between all the different apps. Service providers wouldn’t need to waste resources on building apps in the first place, letting them focus on the infrastructure instead. Only OEMs would need to offer a single app, and they’re already building the OS so they are well placed to do this without needing to offer whole libraries to third parties.
But best of all – Everyone could work together to define where Streaming as a concept should head. Some people might say that having common standards can stifle creativity, but I see it as a way to encourage adoption. Web browsers all adhere to standards, but it doesn’t stop them trying new things out. Even considering the recent releases of “interactive” TV shows and films could easily fall in to the outdated standards of DVD titles & chapters.
Standardising would help open up the streaming space, and could potentially encourage even more smaller services to start up. With support for these coming as a built in standard, new services wouldn’t need to worry about building apps and could instead focus on just creating and providing media.
Standardising this would help democratise the technology, and as long as the standard is open for anyone to discuss (and not just a few companies), that can only be a good thing.
📲 And another thing…
Assuming we’re stuck with apps for the moment:
If your app can stream from the web, why can’t you let people download for offline viewing later? Many apps have at least rudimentary support for this, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, hold-outs continue to not implement this.
Most infuriating is when an app does support this, but leaves it up to publishers to decide whether it is allowed – and then of course the publisher will just say “no”, as if they had been personally threatened by this offering of user choice.
The app developer wouldn’t lose any money over offering downloads, and neither would the service provider or even the publisher. All restricting this functionality does is punish legitimate customers who dare to live or visit places with difficulty reaching the internet.
If common interfaces were built, the control over whether to download for later viewing would be taken out of the hands of people who would decline permission and given to the paying customer. The difference between streaming and downloading is really just how much you buffer, so the fact that such a big deal had been made of it so far is baffling.
😤 Maybe one day
We’re well on our way into the 21st century. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the march of progress, but we really shouldn’t be having these kinds of issues any more.
If I’m being pessimistic, this hasn’t happened yet because apps are a good way of harvesting data.
If I’m being optimistic, we haven’t done this already because customers of streaming services are willing to put up with awkwardness of apps and there isn’t any incentive to do anything else.
Maybe one day we’ll get there. In the meantime, I guess I’ll jus [The blog app has stopped responding, would you like to send a report to the developer?]
On the missed value behind a Netflix subscription: https://tradesmanhelix.vivaldi.net/2019/07/11/netflix/
(If I get round to it,) a post on licensing: [Soon™]