commentary Yesterday afternoon, Network Ten began offering full episodes of the US series Supernatural for download from their Web site.
Last night I visited the Supernatural site in order to test out the service. As a result, I can comfortably list 10 things wrong with it. And these have been culled from a shortlist. Points for trying, Ten, but it seems you have a bit to learn about the workings of The Internets.
Ghost in the machine?
1. You cannot download episodes if you use Firefox or a Mac. This little factoid is buried in the depths of a largely irrelevant FAQ (more on that later). Using Firefox, you can get a fair way through the process -- the site allows you to register your details and obtain the necessary add-on apps for viewing the files. When it comes time to download the episodes, you'll receive a message saying the download is in progress. Only the download is not in progress. We sat around waiting for several minutes before giving up. It would have been nice to be informed of the Firefox incompatibility earlier. Or at all.
2. Contrary to my optimistic assumption that the process doesn't require software installation, you'll need to install four separate applications (including Channel Ten-branded media management software and ActiveX add-ons) before you can view the video files.
3. You can't keep the episodes for more than two days. They self-destruct after 48 hours, thanks to DRM. A week I could understand, but two days?
4. You can only access downloads from one computer.
5. Your connection speed might not be high enough. Or maybe it is. It's difficult to tell what the minimum requirements are; Ten's Web site has a few conflicting suggestions:
From the FAQ
What are the minimum system requirements?
- A broadband Internet connection of at least 600 kbps
From the main page
Depending on your connection speed, downloading an episode may take some time -- it's best to do it overnight. The download works best if you've got a fast broadband connection -- 512 kbs or faster.
And kbs isn't a typo.
6. Speaking of the FAQ, it's full of a lot of irrelevant and confusing information. For example:
Why am I hearing some sound but my video is choppy, frozen or missing entirely?
If you have a broadband connection of at least 600 kbps but still have poor video quality, excessive buffering, or a total lack of video, this can be due to a lack of computer processing power or general traffic congestion on the Internet. Try not to run other applications while accessing streaming media.
Also, if you are accessing the video through a Local Area Network (LAN), you may experience excessive buffering or connectivity delays as a result of network congestion from the other users on your LAN.
Hold up. The episodes are downloaded files, not streaming media. Looks like someone's done the old Ctrl-C Ctrl-V on a generic FAQ.
7. The design of the Supernatural site is frustrating and illogical. There's no navigation menu; you need to use text links in order to get to the downloads, and there's no explicit mention of the need to register your details. The link to the FAQ is way down at the bottom of the page. If this is an indication of what's to come in Ten's, I am very afraid.
8. I struggle to understand what audience these downloads are targeted at. Dare I say it -- the kind of people who are into the idea of downloading episodes of a cult horror series are the kind of people who will have already obtained it months earlier using file-sharing software. I don't mean to suggest that the majority of Ten's 16 to 39-year-old demographic are rapscallions who get off on copyright infringement and piracy. But when the options are a) to download an ad-free, restriction-free episode file hours after it screens in the US or b) to wait half a year in order to download a DRM'd file that self-destructs after 48 hours and requires the surrender of personal details and four additional applications, it's obvious what people will choose.
9. Despite repeated attempts, I haven't been able to watch the episode I downloaded. A fellow ZDNetter has also tried and failed to get the first episode. No joy thus far, only error messages and prompts to download more add-ons.
10. I can't quite put this one into words. I'll use screenshots instead.
Overall conclusion? Ten needs to learn a bit more about the workings of online content delivery before launching any offerings. Otherwise they're just embarrassing themselves in front of their young target audience.