Why We Can't Easily Get Uncapped Online TV

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.

Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


Comments

    wouldn't this all change if we had a NBN?

      It wouldn't change cost issue for the networks who need to server the content. And it wouldn't change the commercial networks' perception that there's a lack of benefit in them making it available online.

    yes

    Would multicasting have any benefit on live broadcasting?

      multicasting is the same thing as broadcasting - sending out the data to all and sundry, and whoever wants to view it taps in.

    The whole situation optimises the problem with Australia's networks.

    By rights, iView and any other content shouldn't be unmetered or not, and provides unfair advantage to ISP's in providing content services.

    Its worse on mobile networks, like Telstra's NextG, which can offer unlimited access to Foxtel Mobile for $12 per month whilst charging exorbitant fees for data which customers other mobile TV providers must use.

    It's anti-competitive and should probably be looked at by the ACCC, but good luck.

    Why wouldn't it change with the NBN?
    I mean once a strong structure is in place things like servers will have a good foundation and become cheaper. Overseas markets for server space will open up in australia and servers will get cheaper still, in turn providing plenty cheap space for caching unmeted content.

    Right now I have a connection capped at 2 gigs I have d/l about 18 movies, 4 albums and have streamed about 10 movies, 10 episodes for series that I like to watch and done a whole bunch of web browsing and this moth I still have majority of my quota left.
    I dont think you have to worry about unmeted content if you pay the money to up your quota and you should be fine.
    As for server space, do you relise you can use p2p for streaming video? The more peers the higher quality feed you can watch. Doesn't this suggest that there is a cheaper way to stream video, rather than paying for server space in order to cache content? And with the NBN right around the corner there will be a healthy network for p2p and streaming.

    This article seems a touch shallow, you argument to it's too expensive to mark the bit's coming from akamai, how much exactly does it cost to mark each bit?

    On the flip side I'm sure it costs TV networks to broadcast their channels through the air across Australia, so it's not like getting their images to the masses comes free.

    I can understand an ISP freeing up ABC traffic as it's gov't/not for profit. But why should an ISP transmit content that's going to make the TV stations money for free, the only argument is that they may get more customers to get that service. It's not like cabs will drop you at the shops for free so you can get your groceries.

      It's the initial investment in a system that marks the bits that's the issue -- the station has to do that, not the ISP (though it may need some minor investment to recognise that content). The fact that SBS can't manage it but the ABC can shows that government/commercial isn't the only relevant axis.

    But the above argument goes with everything...

    Radio, Books, Music and Movies all have a download penalty. Radio and Movies are the worst offenders. Radio isn't so bad in data weight, however, the nature of radio means its more than likely to be on your mobile. mobile data costs lots. Movies are also bad. a 720p 2hr video is about 2GB. 720p is cheap though. 1080p is the way to go, how large is that?

    Quotas are for the digital poor. LOL Australia.

    This is a bit of a shameless plug for my home ISP Internode. They provide un-metered bandwidth for ABC's iView and it means that I can use it as much as I like.

    All I need now if for the ABC to upgrade the visual quality of the iView stream so that it isn't so chunky when sending it though to my TV.

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