South Africa faces tremendous problems, DStv said on Wednesday. Chief among these is missing out on episodes of Desperate Housewives by forgetting to record them when going to dinner. But now this social ill can be banished for all time! (Mostly. Premium payment required. Nasty studio terms and conditions apply.)
It gets a bit confusing, because DStv isn’t big about using different names for different services. Yes, there is already a DStv on demand option on high-end, personal video recorder decoders. That’s where you go into the menu, select an episode or movie you missed, request it, and it is downloaded to the PVR for viewing over the next week.
Now there are two more, similar options. If you fit all the criteria (more on which below) you can stream some content from the DStv on-demand website [http://ondemand.dstv.com/]. Or you can download those same shows to your computer for later viewing, although an even stricter set of rules applies to that service.
All of which is free, and also free of advertising if you already pay about R600 a month for the top-end DStv package. But not necessarily because that is the way DStv likes it.
“The studios are very strict,” says John Kotsaftis, the CEO of the DStv online division. “We can’t put advertising in; we can’t charge viewers for the content.”
What most of the studios do allow (final negotiations are still going on with two of the big ones) is a catch-up service, in which people who paid to see a show or movie, and missed it, get a window of opportunity to see it again. That means DStv will make foreign content available for only seven days, on any of its platforms, and local shows for about 30 days.
Photo: DSTv slide says it all about the nature of SA’s biggest problem today.
Online streaming will be available to anyone with the premium DStv package, plus an account with MWeb, a browser that supports Flash and a pretty fast internet connection. Downloading shows require a custom application, which is available only for Windows and Mac OS X.
Is DStv using this service to promote MWeb, which shares a parent company with it? Absolutely not, executives insist. Limiting the service to MWeb users is a temporary, technical issue.
“We can’t make money off this, but if the ISPs charge us for bandwidth it would cost us a fortune,” Kotsaftis says. “We want an open peering arrangement, and there are some security requirements.”
Basically, DStv has promised to allow any ISP to deliver its shows to mutual customers, as long as they get a free pipe into the core network of that ISP and guarantee that the service won’t be throttled or otherwise impeded. DStv also mutters about requiring an uncapped service, so customers don’t get hit with a bandwidth bill of thousands of rands and blame MultiChoice, but that seems to be a softer requirement.
However, what the company has implemented technically doesn’t match that philosophy. If you have an MWeb account at the time of registration for the online on-demand service, you can actually download shows using any connection with any ISP inside the country. The only filtering DStv does is geographical, to satisfy studio demands that it not make shows available to countries not covered by its broadcast signal. It does not, however, differentiate between MWeb and any other ISP after registration.
The quality of live streamed shows isn’t great. Downloaded shows are encoded at a slightly higher bit rate, which makes for viewing closer to what you’d get on a standard television, but at somewhere close to 300 megabytes for an average TV show, it’ll take a good couple of hours to download on any connection that costs less than R5,000 a month.
If you failed to record that episode of Desperate Housewives, though, the company promises to have it on the website before lunchtime the next day, giving you time to do the download and save your marriage.
By Phillip de Wet
Main Photo: Nolo Letele, Multichoice group CEO, says the online offering is step one in providing access to content across multiple platforms. Translation: we’re going for total domination here, puny new competitors. Be afraid. The Daily Maverick