Earlier this year I got an invite to join a pre-launch beta version of the SeeSaw online TV service, at the time the range of available content was a little unimpressive (though I seem to recall it was all available at no cost) and my usage of it stopped pretty quickly.
Recently I was asked by the firm’s PR agency if I’d care to look again, including at the paid-for content which is now also available. Happy to do so but short of time before I enjoyed a few days rest, I ended up unsuccessfully trying to use the service on a day off.
I say unsuccessfully because it seems the service relies entirely on Flash rendering it incompatible with my iPad. Given that both BBC iPlayer and YouTube manage to serve up iPad-friendly versions this was pretty disappointing.
Back in front of a Flash-capable device (but also back in front of my TV meaning I had to make a special effort to watch shows on a computer rather than on a bigger screen) I’ve finally been able to have a better look.
For anyone not familiar with the service, programmes are either available freely on an ad-supported basis or on an episode/series rental basis for what the service terms ‘premium’ content.
Episode and series rental periods are fairly generous: £1.19 for an episode of the first series of Torchwood secures you access for 30 days while the entire series can be viewed for 90 days for just £7.99. Obviously the series works out cheaper than paying per episode but it’s nice to have the option to cherry pick individual instalments – fans of any show will have their favourites they’ll want to revisit.
I checked the rental prices for the first seasons of three seenit.co.uk favourites – Life on Mars, Torchwood and Spooks – against the cost of buying them as downloads via the iTunes store (handy for those wanting to watch on their iPhone, iPad or iPod) and from Amazon.co.uk (on the basis that the apparent need for a Flash-capable desktop or laptop means anyone who can use the service is almost certain to have a DVD drive to hand) with the following results:
Life on Mars Series 1
SeeSaw: £4.99 (90 day rental)
Torchwood Series 1
SeeSaw: £7.99 (90 day rental)
Spooks Series 1
SeeSaw: £4.99 (90 day rental)
In each case SeeSaw came out cheapest but anyone likely to want to watch again or on the move may want to check out the alternatives before handing over their money.
When it came to picking a show to rent, I found the high quality of the free shows – which include the likes of The IT Crowd, The Inbetweeners, Hustle, and Peep Show – a serous distraction.
Worse, of the shows available to rent some comprehensively failed the value for money test – The Catherine Tate Show is repeated so many times on digital TV and is on the BT Vision and Virgin Media catch-up services so often that I can’t imagine anyone being willing to shell out a fiver to watch it. Ditto Fawlty Towers (is there ever a 3 month period when GOLD isn’t re-showing this?), the first series of which can be snapped up from iTunes for £4.99, making even the ultra-low £3.49 series rental of dubious value.
The US drama section boasts “982 programmes” but this is actually the number of episodes available and is made up of just 21 series including Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica, Lost and Heroes and the UK Comedy selection presented me with the chance to pay for the likes of The Mighty Boosh, Gavin & Stacey, Only Fools and Horses and Keeping Up Appearances – none of which really had me gagging to part with my cash.
While there were a ton of shows I’d happily have paid to watch, all of these were available for free. Great for me but useless for the purposes of testing out the paid-for ‘premium’ content.
From a technical point of view SeeSaw scores high marks, the user-freindly and uncomplicated design is easy to understand and the ability (also offered by ITV Player) to dim or brighten the area surrounding the video player when you aren’t playing fullscreen is a nice touch.
On the technical front it’s all good news – video quality, even in fullscreen mode, was superb on the shows I watched and the sound was clear and easily heard even on my fairly unexciting MacBook speakers. And, unlike my early experiences with 4oD, the video plays nice and smoothly every single time.
So lots of pluses and great potential but the imbalance in the mix of paid-for and free content is a serious downer and the dependence on Flash flatly rules the service out of contention for many of those wanting to watch TV on the move. Especially we iPad users who, with an almost 10″ screen in our hands, have the ideal gadget to do so on.