Let’s face it: you’re much more likely to watch catch-up TV on your PC if you know that doing so isn’t going to eat into your precious download limits. So why are our options for viewing mainstream TV networks and not having it count against our metered total so limited?
If you want to watch content on the ABC’s excellent iView service, there are plenty of ISPs who offer unmetered access (iiNet, Internode, Primus, Adam, plus iiNet-owned AAPT and Westnet). However, even those providers don’t let you view ABC News 24 as an umetered service.
Outside the ABC, the options are pretty much non-existent if you want to access regular TV content via an ordinary network site. There’s deals a-plenty for paid movie downloads or subscription services, but right now, if you want to catch an episode of anything via the Seven, Nine, Ten or SBS sites, you can expect a significant bite out of your download limits. If the ABC can manage it, why is it so hard for everyone else?
We’ve explained beforehand why uncapped plans are a rarity amongst Australian providers. Briefly, the biggest factor is the cost of accessing data from offshore servers. That would certainly be an issue if overseas streaming services like Hulu weren’t already geoblocked, but at least in theory it shouldn’t be an issue with content that stays entirely within Australian networks.
The main argument for not making content quota-free (as with most things in the world of ISPs) comes down to cost. Streaming services generally make use of specialised providers (Akamai is the best-known) to ensure they can deliver large volumes of content. Those services are also used by other high-volume web sites. Any content that is going to be offered quota-free has to be easily identified by the ISP, and that can be difficult if it’s part of a large undifferentiated stream of bits. In overly simple terms, marking that data so it can be appropriately cached and then offered as a non-metered download is expensive, and not all broadcasters (or ISPs) want to pay that money.
This was essentially the argument made by SBS when it recently explained why it didn’t offer unmetered content yet. Like the ABC, SBS is government-funded (although it takes advertising as well), so there’s an argument that it should make its services as widely available as possible. But it simply doesn’t have the dollars to do so.
As for the commercial networks, it’s questionable whether they’re actually that interested anyway. While offering catch-up streams helps them develop consumer loyalty, their business is selling eyeballs to advertisers, and there are still far more eyeballs in front of actual broadcast TV programs than on sites. There’s a chicken-and-egg element to the argument — an unmetered service might well attract a bigger audience — but right now the dollars appear to be doing into more digital TV channels, not more online options.
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