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SeeSaw: Everything you need to know about the TV-streaming service

SeeSaw, a new TV-streaming service, launches today. Crave went to find out exactly how it works, and chat with its head of technology, Richard Dines

SeeSaw, the UK-based TV streaming service that officially launched today, will be taking on services such as YouTube and iPlayer in a bold attempt to make money out of video on the Web. At the launch event today, SeeSaw CEO Pierre-Jean Sebert told an assembled crowd that from spring this year, users would be able to pay for some video content, including current American drama and comedy, and some BBC programming.

Free stuff is available too, from 4oD and Five as well as the Beeb -- we enjoyed what we saw when we tried the beta last month. The pay model will be both transaction- and subscription-based, so you can pay a subscription for unlimited viewing, or make one-off payments for individual programmes. The model is 'pure rental', so when you pay for a show, you'll be renting the video stream -- no downloads.

At the moment SeeSaw is remaining tight-lipped on exactly how long you have access to that stream, and how much individual shows are likely to cost. We also learned that SeeSaw is exclusively about the telly -- there are no plans to get any movies up on the site, something YouTube will be trialling in coming weeks.

SeeSaw claims it's trying to avoid a paywall situation -- it doesn't want its site split into a free zone and a pay zone, so it's hoping to mix the paid-for stuff in with the free content. We think it's a risky strategy, because nothing will turn users away faster than clicking into some content they think is free, only to be asked to shell out for the privilege.

Advertising will play on free content, but not if you're paying. Two 30-second ads will play before your show, and two more in the middle. That makes for a total of two minutes of advertising every time you watch something, which doesn't sound like much, but might get wearisome if you have to reload your browser page for any reason. SeeSaw is confident it'll be able to tempt advertisers to use the site with ads targeted at users based on their viewing habits. SeeSaw is Flash-based, and Adobe handles all the site's DRM, so piracy is probably going to be a non-issue.

We had a good sit-down and a lovely chat with Richard Dines, head of product and technology at SeeSaw about the behind-the-scenes gubbins that makes SeeSaw run...

What kind of quality will video content on SeeSaw stream in?
"Users get three choices: low, medium or high quality, which translates into 500Kbps, 800Kbps and 1.5Mbps streaming speed respectively. There's currently no iPlayer-style HD option -- [which requires 3.2Mbps bandwidth] we have to consider users' broadband connections, though if the demand is there it's certainly something we'll look into."

What goes on behind the scenes at SeeSaw?
"We own the SeeSaw servers ourselves, and the back end is very well engineered. We have a great system in place for receiving content from distributors -- they send us a 'mezzanine' file [a clean master copy of the data] which we then transcode down to whatever bit-rate we want."

How are you going to get SeeSaw on to other devices?
"Pierre mentioned in the presentation that we're actively engaged in getting SeeSaw on to other set-top boxes and games consoles [though again no companies were named]. Obviously the iPhone is very popular, and this is exactly the kind of services users will expect to be able to use on their iPhones and Android devices."

YouTube developed its own video format for use with the iPhone, which doesn't support Flash -- is this something SeeSaw would consider?
"What YouTube did was reasonably ambitious. For devices with scale and reach, we'd absolutely consider what we could do in that area. But of course we don't have endless resources, and at this stage we need to spend our money reasonably wisely."

SeeSaw, which is owned by Arqiva, is now out of closed beta, during which time it amassed an impressive 20,000 customers. In the next few months expect to see an increase in content available on the site, and some clues as to how exactly the premium service will be implemented. We want to hear your thoughts of SeeSaw -- what do you think of the site itself, and do you think people will be willing to pay a premium for non-downloadable content? Answers in the comments, please.