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Seesaw: A Spotify, a Hulu, or a Joost?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 13:08 UK time, Friday, 5 February 2010

If you want to watch television online these days, there's now a plethora of choices. Among so-called catch-up services, there's the BBC iPlayer, 4oD from Channel 4, itv.com and the Sky Player.

Minnou the cat playing the piano, 2004Then there is YouTube, which is continuing its transformation from the home of wacky videos of cats playing the piano to a professional platform for full-length TV programmes. The popular US service Hulu is also expected in the UK later this year - and then there's Seesaw.

This new browser-based video-on-demand service launches in the next couple of weeks, but I've been trying out the beta version. What you get when you log in is a range of programmes from three providers: the BBC, Channel 4, and Five.

This isn't "catchup TV", as the material is programmes that were broadcast some months or years ago. So for instance, the BBC offerings include Bleak House, Hustle and This Life. Channel 4 has 57 episodes of Shameless on tap, but there is some quite recent material, including the last series of The IT Crowd, and Five's Gadget Show.

So how does it look? Attractive enough, with an easily-navigable front page and quick links to the programmes. My first effort at actually watching something was unsatisfactory - the programme kept pausing and stuttering, presumably due to the slow wireless network I was using. But once I logged in using my fast home network, it was a much smoother experience

I tried an episode of Channel 4's Peep Show, and was obliged to watch a couple of pre-roll adverts and a sponsor's message before I could see the programme. And that may be an issue - exactly the same episode is also available both on Channel 4's 4OD service, and on YouTube, and in each case there appears to be less advertising around the video.

With so many different ways to view video on demand, Seesaw may struggle to find a place in an increasingly crowded market - and one where others with deep pockets may soon arrive from the United States. That is ironic, given the service's origins.

Seesaw

Seesaw was created from the wreckage of Project Kangaroo, a planned online video service owned by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 which was blocked by the UK's Competition Commission on the grounds that it would threaten the growth of the then nascent video-on-demand market. Kangaroo's technology was bought last summer by Arqiva, the broadcast transmission company, which then set about doing deals with content owners.

A spokesman made it clear to me that the service which will launch in the next few weeks is very much a work-in-progress. More content will be added, and as well as the free ad-supported offer, there's the possibility of a subscription service later in the year. That will need to offer some pretty compelling programmes to win any customers. Perhaps we could see Arqiva bidding for Premier League football rights?

But the internet is littered with the corpses of promising online video and music services which failed to prove their commercial viability. So here's the question - is Seesaw a Spotify, a Hulu or a Joost?

My contact at Seesaw seemed pleased with the parallel with Spotify, the music service which uses exactly the same "freemium" model which the new video site seems keen to adopt. But Spotify launched with a far more comprehensive range of content than Seesaw can offer, and yet still has to prove that it can convert enough people into paying customers to be viable. Mind you, its founder Daniel Ek told me the other day that "well over 250,000 subscribers (and growing by thousands more a day), and an advertising business in the tens of millions of euros per year" was nothing to be sneezed at.

But perhaps Seesaw would prefer to be compared with Hulu? That service, launched in the US in 2007 by NBC, Fox and ABC, has been very successful in attracting big crowds with access to big-name programmes like Lost. But the fact that one of its founders said last year that it "needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business" suggests that making the numbers add up is still proving a challenge. And if it does arrive in the UK later this year, it will provide Seesaw with stiff competition - not just for viewers but for advertising spending .

One comparison Seesaw won't like is with Joost. The internet television service was launched by the creators of Skype with great fanfare in 2007, but never managed to assemble enough compelling content to build a sizeable audience, and gradually just faded away.

Unlike commercial broadcast television, online video has so far proved anything but a licence to print money. Can Seesaw break the mould? Perhaps, but only if it gets must-see programming in front of viewers before its many rivals.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good to see that your fast VM connection ("But once I logged in using my fast home network, it was a much smoother experience") does the job Rory!

    :-)

  • Comment number 2.

    I am fully behind Internet TV - but in the UK - the ISP's need to get involved as user demand increases. Currently - most internet service providers unlimited service will have caveats if you are deemed a "heavy" user and exceed certain thresholds within a calendar month. Until we see traffic shaping and throttling removed - it will never take off in the UK in fuzzy SD or crystal HD.


  • Comment number 3.

    I am very surprised you made no mention of TVCatchup? It's been running for well over a year now and currently has about 50 channels all being streamed pretty much live (slight delay of about 10 seconds to normal TV) and the quality is very crisp. You can also use it on the iPhone, and now has about 40 radio stations. All of this is free for anyone in the UK to use, and it's perfectly legal. It also has great support for users via Twitter or on their forums. (This is not a plug by the way, I just like their service)
    The ones you mention cost money for people to use with the exception of SeeSaw which is currently only in Beta. SeeSaw is good don't get me wrong, but it isn't live. It basically does the same as the iPlayer except for a few more channels and holds the programs for longer, unlike the iPlayer which removes them from the servers about a week after their air dates.
    Hands down I would use TVCatchup over any of the services available at the moment as I enjoy being able to watch TV on one monitor whilst working on the other or watching the match on my iPhone, if I'm not at home. If I happen to miss something that I want to watch later then yes, I'd opt for the iPlayer to catch up the next day or so.
    Also I have been looking at another TV related site called TVGorge, which is also legal. This however differs from the rest as it seems to link to existing video streams already available out there, but it does do a great job of aggregating quality (ish) sources. I say (ish) as it is miles away from the clarity of TVCatchup, but i's still early days for the site.
    The main thing that I do like about TVGorge though, is the fact that it has no geo-restrictions at all. This means that you can watch the latest episodes of Lost or 24 pretty much just after they have finished airing in the states, unlike living in the UK where one would have to wait at least a week by which time you probably know what happened due to people talking about it on Twitter or Facebook etc and thus spoiling it for you. This way if people can have free, non geo-restricted TV to watch, then you will also notice a dramatic fall in the need for people to download it illegally via P2P or other sources.

    Please don't get me wrong, I liked your article but there are better services out there, and the best one for me is British, locally based and free. Just thought I'd mention them.

    Richard

  • Comment number 4.

    Who knows how long it will last, or if it's really legal... but for now www.tvgorge.com looks pretty good for streaming TV!

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm guessing it will be regionally restricted, as usual, although it does not explicitly state this anywhere on their website. When will the media industry realise that the 'internet' is not a country it is the whole World. I guess us ex-pats will just have to resort to bittorrent as usual, even though I would be more that happy to pay for a service like this. Just as I would be willing to pay for an international version of BBC iPlayer, but this is not available either.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm not really sold on this to be honest.

    I like the idea of free TV programs but generally if I want to watch anything I would watch it live or have it recorded it via Sky+HD. Anything else is superfluous to my TV needs.

    I am a Professional Web Developer in my late 20s and as such I'd consider myself quite savvy when it comes to online content but the quality just doesn't grab me so far.

    I have watched a few rugby matches online but obviously compared to SKY HD's coverage the quality is astonishingly lacking. At present I would rather pay for quality HD programming that get free SD programming.

    I imagine that there is some business model in place for HULU which supports the lost DVD Blu-Ray sales caused by the service and I would be interested to see by what percentage (if any) traditional digital media sales drop in reaction to the availability of this.

    Sure if there is an episode of South Park or Futurama that I must see then something like this or HULU may be the place to go. Seriously though, how often do you need to watch something specific as episode X of pro gramme Y from season Z?

    I will still pay to view at present thanks. Give me free HD content that an ISP isn't going to moan about and i'm in. For now, I'll pass.

  • Comment number 7.

    I waited with anticipation for Seesaw and was dissappointed to find it has the same limited content as MSN Video Player which offers old programmes from the same three BBC, 4od and Demand Five.

  • Comment number 8.

    I like TV. I watch a reasonable amount enjoying the usual series - Lost, House, Stargate, The Wire etc. I use iplayer, 4-on-demand, ITV player (if there is anything worth watching), tvcatchup and itunes when I have to pay for an episode of something that is not on freeview. However, available TV via the internet can be so limiting that something like tvgorge is very attractive.

    Come on TV industry, give us an option that we can pay for and you will be surprised - even with adverts! Don't follow the music industry mess, embrace internet distribution - its not like programmes are not already being illegally distributed.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Steve Brammer:

    The European directive "AudioVisual Without Frontiers" means that very soon, it will be illegal for the BBC (or any other European Broadcaster) to prevent viewers outside the broadcaster's country but within the EU from watching their content.

    See http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/07/311&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

    @Thegift73:

    I second the vote for TVCatchup.com - It's great for watching TV when you just can't get to one.

  • Comment number 10.

    Amydet, that sounds interesting, but I think it would have to be a subscription/pay per view service as the BBC (and to a degree Channel 4) aren't going to other their programmes for free as they are tax payer funded and I doubt other countries would be willing to raise their TV licences (if they have one) to fund the BBC and in part Channel 4.
    Also, I don't know how much clout the European Commission will have have to push this directive through. There seem to be quite a few eurosceptics here in the UK and the there may even be people who aren't against a centralised Europe who wouldn't like UK TV shown elsewhere (hence, to a degree, "Auntie Beeb"). Other countries in the EU may have part of their populations with similar attitudes, that it is part of their culture. I personally don't hold a view on this.
    As for online TV, I still don't quite understand why the Competition Commission reject Project Kangaroo. If I remember correctly, it was in part because of complaints from Sky, but surely they make enough as it is and shouldn't reduce the consumers convenience for their own gain. Anyway, the ISPs will have to be less strict with bandwidth limitations and preferably remove download caps (plus remove false advertising) if online TV is going to take off. BT seem to hate my use of BBC iPlayer as it is.

  • Comment number 11.

    OK, let's compare ... with torrents, I have already seen all of series such as Glee and Dollhouse which are only just starting to be shown here on UK TV. Advert free and pretty quick to download a full episode in HD (about 5 minutes), compatible with both my Linux and Windows PCs, I don't need additional software to watch, free to re-distribute and oh, i can burn to a DVD if I so desire. Oh and after it's downloaded, I can take it to places that are not internet enabled (eg the trains or busses here in Leeds) and still watch it.

    Remind me again why I'd want to subscribe to one of these 'catch up' or 'on demand' services?!

  • Comment number 12.

    This is all great and I've played with each of them at work - including SeeSaw - although so far my favourite is BlinkBox.

    BUT - as I live in the Channel Islands I can't use any of them from home. Rights reasons apparently.

    I can watch the exact same shows on the Channel 4 site, on the ITV site and even on Demand five - but not on these new sites.

  • Comment number 13.

    Not that it made one iota of difference, but I was so angry with the Competition Commission for blocking Project Kangaroo. It seemed to me that their attitude was 'nevermind what the end user would actually like to use and find helpful, but "has to be stopped" and that viewers would benefit if the three were "close competitors" rather than allies. No we wouldn't!

    The public would surely benefit from them working together, especially when, as Rory has said, "Unlike commercial broadcast television, online video has so far proved anything but a licence to print money"

    And as if to rub salt in that wound, Arqiva have bought the system and will probably be a serious rival to SeeSaw, especially as they'll almost free reign to get providers on-board without having to have both hands tied behind their back.

    I hope SeeSaw is a success, but I think thanks to the Competition Commission forcing such a big delay in an 'acceptable' system coming to market, all it has really done is scupper any realistic chance of SeeSaw becoming a major player.

  • Comment number 14.

    I love TV but generally hate watching live TV as most of the stuff thats on when i want to sit down and watch an hour of TV to unwind is rubbish, also if i do watch something specific on a commercial channel then i wait 20mins before i start watching so i can fast forward through the Ads. I have a windows 7 PC linked to my TV and watch all my TV through Media Centre which is excellent. Sometimes, if i remember, i'll put some stuff on season record but i often forget and again if i do this i will fast forward through all the ads. Most of the TV i watch is stuff i have downloaded from torrents, i fully accept it isn't legal but alot of the suff i want to watch isn't on in the UK or i'd need to give Murdoch some money (which i really don't want to do) in order to have more ads to watch the same programs.

    This isn't really an excuse but surrely with commercial TV what they want is for me to watch the ads and i am never going to do this with 3-5minutes worth, it's just tedious. So is there a massive difference to them if i download or record and then fast forward the ads? The same result occurs i watch the program i want and see no ads whatsoever. The BBC is obviously different, i pay my TV liscence and the iplayer is a great service.

    I have used HULU in the past as well as the ABC and FOX players to watch 24 etc, (i get around the region restictions) and these servises are great, there is an ad, usually 30 secondsish, before the show and then a few times during the show, 30 seconds of ads every now and then i can put up with, i know it'll just be one ad and i couldn't fast forward if i wanted to. Surely this is better for everyone? The advertisers get me watching their ads, they can also track exactly how many people have seen there ads and maybe even pay accordingly (google adwords style) and i get my free TV whenever i want without having to remember to put it on season record. With the new style American shows like 24 and LOST you can't miss and episode, so having access to all of them is a must. As soon as HULU starts properly in Britain with access to all the shows and movies i want and minimal ads i will wave goodbye to torrents, until then they are the best solution.

    (P.s. why would i pay £14.99 to download a movie when i can buy it in Tesco on DVD for much less, the whole point of downloadable content is it should be cheaper, the movie industry is just insane!)

  • Comment number 15.

    Although these services are great i don't like the fact that you get throttled after your limit is up.

    With my ISP (VirginMedia) you get throttled even if your just watching programmes on Iplayer which is a joke to be honest.

    I would have thought that using the BBC, C4, ITV, 5 on demand services would not be included in the bandwidth usage.

    If these services did take off then the ISP's would be putting further strain on the network as it is as many areas are over subscribed as it is.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ian Wickenden @13Arqiva have bought the system and will probably be a serious rival to SeeSaw

    Hmm. Let's try reading that blog post again:

    Seesaw was created from the wreckage of Project Kangaroo [...] Kangaroo's technology was bought last summer by Arqiva

    I don't think you need worry over much about SeeSaw and Arqiva being rivals.

  • Comment number 17.

    @badger_fruit #11 "Remind me again why I'd want to subscribe to one of these 'catch up' or 'on demand' services?!"

    It's a little thing we call "The Law".

  • Comment number 18.

    @amydet: "The European directive "AudioVisual Without Frontiers" means that very soon, it will be illegal for the BBC (or any other European Broadcaster) to prevent viewers outside the broadcaster's country but within the EU from watching their content."

    Isn't it the other way around? This directive doesn't mean that a country can't limit their broadcasts to their own country, it means that countries can't stop other countries broadcasting into them if they want to.

  • Comment number 19.

    PS. This is the link that clarifies this: http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/reg/tvwf/index_en.htm

    "TVWF aims to create the conditions necessary for the free movement of television broadcasts within the EU (including most forms of transmission to the public of television programmes).

    It achieves this by preventing Member States from restricting reception...of broadcasts from other EU countries. "

  • Comment number 20.

    HULU, FOX and ABC are great sites. The only way I've found to access the videos is via an IP blocker. You can watch full episodes of all American shows and some really good films. All you have to do is watch a few adverts just like normal advert breaks. Great sites, just a shame that it's so hard for the average user to access them. Of course, none of this would be a problem if the U.S released episodes this side of the pond at the same time. That would really reduce the amount of people downloading torrents of Heroes, 24 and Lost, rather then have to wait weeks or months for these episodes to trickle over to the U.K

  • Comment number 21.

    Can anyone tell me if Veetle is legal or not? it seems a good site that lets you stream anything that someone else is watching with a tv card.

  • Comment number 22.

    @thegift73 thanks for lettings us know about tvcatchup and tvgorge, I know for myself tvcatchup will be good when someones watching the tv when i want to watch it at the same time but a diffrent programme. I'm sure my uncle who lives in switzerland will appreicate the tvgorge website so he can catch up on the latests us/uk shows...thanks again :-)

  • Comment number 23.

    "11. At 8:27pm on 06 Feb 2010, badger_fruit wrote:
    OK, let's compare ... with torrents, I have already seen all of series such as Glee and Dollhouse which are only just starting to be shown here on UK TV. Advert free and pretty quick to download a full episode in HD (about 5 minutes), compatible with both my Linux and Windows PCs, I don't need additional software to watch, free to re-distribute and oh, i can burn to a DVD if I so desire. Oh and after it's downloaded, I can take it to places that are not internet enabled (eg the trains or busses here in Leeds) and still watch it.

    Remind me again why I'd want to subscribe to one of these 'catch up' or 'on demand' services?!"

    Well these a little thing called copyright

  • Comment number 24.

    I must say i do watch a lot of 'TV' on the old Internet.what i like the most over the last few weeks was the CNN live web cams that were supporting the news in hawaii during the tsunami.

    I have also noticed the growth in streaming movies aka pirate copies http://www.tvokay.com/

    23# yer torrented TV is becoming very popular anyone can watch anything in HD without the HD TV. PC's are very versatile and way ahead on TV display resolutions which after all is what 'HD' is, most DVD players come with graphic up-scaling for that *4 picture 1080p.

    Not to sure about all TV on catchup/recorded TV as cable allows you to backup programs... dink band of brothers high def box-set moved from the Virgin + box to the laptop. thanks BBC HD :) now if i can do that then torrenting the same box set in HD cant be copyright can it? [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    I like all the online tv services. I think its great there are lots of dif ways and versions. Maybe some are not what we are all looking for, but considering everything, i thoink the services are responable. network and ISP limits/problems add to some peoples problems viewing online.
    I have a fairly good connection, but like most ppls, it varies from time to time.
    tvcatchup.com is a really good service, have never had problems with the streaming from that website, only thing i dont like is the inability to resize the video window, like iplayer, 4od, so u are forced to use the whole screen, not really ideal if you wanna view websites aswell.

    SeeSaw, i tried a few times, but the content is on iplayer and other services, which i prefer to use, so i have only used SeeSaw a few times, and havnt found any content NOT featured on its original site (iplayer/4od etc)

    I think youtube doing the same and trying to show content from 4, itv, 5 is a mistake. There is already mass users of youtube, i dont think adding other channels content will benifit them. Why watch on youtube when the content is on 4od ?

    also use streaming-madness.net/ which is great for documentaries/science etc, but again, is this a legal channel? i doubt it>

    Seems to me alot of ppl and companies trying their luck and trying to attract the most users at the start(ish) of online tv generation.

    I personally use online tv services, mainly iPlayer, 4od, tvcatchup.com, alot now, more than my actualy tv, just because i can watch when i want.

 

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