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SBS On Demand

Have you ever missed a program on SBS and wished you had a second chance to view it? Well, there is a way – it’s called SBS On Demand and it’s available from the SBS website.

This service has existed for some time but a while ago underwent a significant upgrade which has resulted in more features. It currently lists an impressive number of programs including short clips such as news and other items.

The service allows you to freely view any of the available programs at your leisure. SBS suggests a minimum connection speed of 256 Kps for suitable viewing. The program is streamed to your computer as you watch it and there is no need to download the entire program first. Programs are normally available for viewing from the day after broadcast, to between a few days and about a month later.

The availability of a program depends on clearance rights, capacity on the SBS server and on-line sponsorship. SaveOurSBS.org did not find any programs longer than 10 minutes that were free of commercial breaks in the SBS On Demand web service.

Insensitive to the viewer experience, programs On Demand are not free of commercial intrusion. During play, visual markers show where a break has been inserted into a program and there is no ability to skip the ad. Once an advertisement is playing, a countdown clock displays time remaining in the break before program is resumed.

It is not so long ago that viewers wise to the alternatives to the annoying commercial breaks on SBS television commented in various blogs and letters to the Editor, that programs could be enjoyed free of ad breaks on the SBS website. That is no longer the case. There is now no-where a viewer can turn to watch an SBS program free of advertisements.

Any change of legislation to phase out in-program advertising on SBS television would be grossly deficient if it did not also include TV programs On Demand.

Half hour programs contain two breaks for commercials while one hour program have three. Additionally, all On Demand programs (longer than 10 minutes) show an advertisement before program commences.

When a program arrives at a break, the web screen cuts to black – black that seems to last for an eternity – while the ad attempts to load. A supporter of SBS sent us this comment in frustration of the service:-

Suddenly the streaming stopped and the screen went blank for several seconds and I thought there was a problem, so I was nearly going to close the tab. Then the ad started, but it was very slow to load and kept stopping and starting. It was very annoying. It must have used another streaming method. I had to sit through four of these slow to load ads in the 45 minute program [one before and three during].

SaveOurSBS.org assessed the On Demand web service viewing numerous programs on different days in three different States in metropolitan and regional areas via differing ISPs. For comparison we tried both slow and fast (256 Kps) connections. In every case ads were slow to load. Typically, up to 25 seconds of a loading symbol in black before and after each commercial is ridiculous. It is bad enough to break into a program for advertisements but the presentation of the SBS On Demand web service is not just bad, it is pathetically so. One wonders if anyone from the Board downwards actually watches. Who cares about the audience? What do advertisers think?

These problems did not exist when the On Demand service was free of commercial intrusions.

When the On Demand player starts, it attempts to adjust to the most appropriate picture quality for internet speed. For speeds around 256 Kps or higher it works quite well –  except for the slow to load advertisements. But unlike ABC iView, SBS On Demand is hopelessly inadequate once the speed approaches or is below 120 Kps, a typical connection speed for many home 3G services.

Another drawback is that during play, there is no visual indication of the data downloaded. But buried away on another page of the On Demand site, we are told that a 30 minute video will consume up to 340MB of data when viewing high quality on a fast connection speed. 

Features of the player include the ability to start from any position within the program, pause, stop and view in full screen mode. If a segment of a program is skipped, you still have to watch the commercials. For example, if you were only a few minutes into a half hour program then skipped to the last few minutes to see how the program concluded, the player will first play any advertisements (after they load) that would otherwise have been in the skipped section. Where available, closed captions can be switched on and off. Programs can be added to a ‘My videos’ list to watch later or a series can be added to a subscription list to view regularly.

Beyond the annoying commercial interruptions and inability to work at slower speeds, the screen is cluttered with many sections and menus appearing complex. A ‘Help’ button is available (top, screen right) with limited information, (and a separate website help link is at the ‘Using this website’ in the footer of each page). There is an inability to ‘sort by days to expiry’ but there is a ‘Last Chance’ category. Other useful categories are: ‘Latest’, ‘Most popular’, ‘Recommended’, ‘Catch up on last night’, ‘Feature Films’, ‘Featured Programs’ and more. A new user will probably become familiar with the main features after some use. The site provides a feedback button.

A limited range of apps exist for SBS On Demand but the website itself is not mobile phone friendly.

SBS On Demand can be accessed via the ‘Video’ link at the top left of the SBS home page sbs.com.au or directly from sbs.com.au/ondemand

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