Hard News by Russell Brown


TVNZ on Demand actually doesn't suck

Having been critical of aspects of the original announcement, I'm actually quite impressed with the TVNZ On Demand service that launched yesterday. It helps greatly that the website isn't subject to the hulking legacy of the main TVNZ site, and, although it's partly a matter of necessity, the all-local slate of programming is a good look.

Paid downloads of imported programmes arrive in a couple of weeks, but I still think TVNZ will struggle there. Their market - people prepared to download very large files - is used to getting episodes of The Sopranos six hours after they screen in the US, not six months. They're unlikely to be persuaded into buying long-after-the-fact episodes that expire seven days after first viewing. The whole business of TV licensing will have to change sooner rather than later to take account of reality, but for now, TVNZ can't do much about it.

Yes, all the paid programming is trussed up in Windows Media DRM, and is thus unavailable to Mac users. Don't expect that to change soon: with all the will in the world, TVNZ has yet to find a robust DRM solution for the Mac, and Apple isn't going to license FairPlay. On the other hand, TVNZ has already had discussions about an iTunes Store presence, if and when Apple can be bothered with such a thing.

Everything but the "classic" archive content appears only to be available to users within New Zealand, although any distant readers who want to have a poke around are welcome to do so. I spoke to the project head John Ferguson this morning and he confirmed that TVNZ is quite keen to be selling local programming to expat New Zealanders, subject to various practical and rights issues being worked out.

The big - and very welcome - change from the original announcement is that archive content is not subject to Windows Media DRM. It's available as progressive download Flash video, and at a 300k bitrate, it looks rather nice, even at full-screen.

The performance of the site has been up and down a little in the past 24 hours. They've opted to use Akamai for content distribution, and it was flying for me yesterday morning. But other people are reporting long load times just for the ads that screen before the free clips.

It was interesting to see Julie Christie and John Barnett both speaking at the media launch yesterday. I think we can take that as indication that negotiations on the paid content were satisfactory and, probably, that TVNZ's difficult relationship with the independent production sector is on the mend.

The next phase of development will see the addition of social features: ratings, comments, blogs. For now, there is apparently some embed code for third parties, but it's top-secret. So I thought we'd help out a bit there. We've posted one of the new "classic" clips in OurTube on Public Address System (I couldn't work out how to play the ad first, sorry). Look, mummy! It embeds! A prize to the TVNZ staffer who can work out where they're exposing the URLs of the .flv files …


As David Slack rightly points out, my friends are good bastards. And I'd like to thank everyone who turned up for the Hustle for Russell fundraiser at Blowfish Sushi (aka the bloody old Windsor Castle!) on Monday (being my friends, they mostly weren't in any hurry to go home either). I'll write some more about the evening and what it means in the next couple of days, but let it be known that a very good night was had by all, a lot of money was raised and the artists who gave their time on stage were universally excellent. The Clean played their three songs, and then three more, and three more again. And they played 'Point That Thing' for something around 13 minutes. Awesome. And there are some pictures to look at.

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