It was the daring young upstart in a world that only knew TV as something to watch at the appointed time, or to diligently record for later.
When the ABC launched iView way back in 2008, the idea of “catch-up TV” was something completely new and largely untested. In fact, the BBC iPlayer service in the UK, which served as a model, was only about six months old. But with iView, the ABC’s New Media department delivered something many people never knew they needed — until they gave it a try. Its massive success was surprising even to the ABC. Since then, the network considerably expanded and enhanced iView, despite an extremely limited budget.
Stay up to date with all your favourite ABC shows. Photo: Supplied
iView is surprisingly light on data usage — you’re only looking at around 125MB of data per half hour of TV. That’s pretty lightweight compared with, say, Netflix’s 1.5GB for the same amount of TV. That’s still important to take note of if you’ve got a low monthly download limit, and especially important when viewing via a mobile device on 3G/4G.
Where iView really shines is on portable devices. The iPad, iPhone, and Android apps feature intuitive, stylish user interfaces, and the video content is perfectly sized for mobile consumption. And unlike iView on a desktop or laptop web browser, the apps can keep track of your favourite shows and offer you a list of customised shows to watch without you having to create an ABC online account and sign in. The apps, which use your device’s unique serial number, can track your favourites and viewing progress without the hassle of having to remember usernames and passwords. Just add your favourite shows to your list and it’ll remember them and keep you updated on new episodes.
Alongside browsers and mobile devices, iView is also available on many other gadgets. Game consoles like the PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PS4 have iView support built in, as do Smart TVs and Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung, LG, and others. If you have a Google Chromecast, you can watch iView through that thanks to a recent update to the mobile app that added Chromecast support. You can also watch ABC iView on Fetch TV, Telstra TV, and Apple TV. The question should really be, what CAN’T you watch iView on.
Programs are generally available for 14-30 days following broadcast. In most instances, programs are online one hour after broadcast on the ABC’s TV channels. However, some programs, such as live shows, news bulletins, sport, and special events may take longer. On the website and mobile apps, ABC iView also provides simulcast live streaming of ABC, ABC Comedy, ABC ME, ABC Kids, and ABC News 24 broadcast channels. Selected programs come with Closed Captions.
It’s the model of how to do a catch-up service right — fast, constantly updated, low bandwidth demands, no ads, and available just about everywhere you look. It is most definitely a good value for that legendary “eight cents a day” — gotta love publicly funded TV!
iView really shines on portable devices. Photo: Supplied
So what’s the downside to operating a service like iView on a relatively tiny budget? The network had to make some compromises in terms of picture quality. Specifically, you can’t watch in HD just yet. Delivering streaming video for free to millions of people is not cheap. To help keep costs down the ABC limits the video quality of iView streams to a very low resolution. In practice, it’s not as big of a deal as some might think. Recently, hardware like the Apple TV and PS4 have include a “high quality” option on their apps that massively improves picture quality; hopefully down the road all viewers will get that higher video quality as well. But mainly the iView plays the role of a catch-up service, there to help you watch content you’ve missed live, so picture quality isn’t the biggest concern.
Although that catch-up service role has been changing slightly in recent times, with iView now boasting original content produced especially for the service, as well as premieres of some shows before they even air on the ABC itself.
So as it stands at the moment, if you’re watching iView on a large-screen HDTV, you’re probably going to have to prepare for a picture that’s less sharp than what you’re used to. It’s perfectly serviceable for the purpose, though. The sheer convenience of being able to jump on iView and watch that episode you missed is what catch-up TV is all about. Plus, the service also updated its video encoding, so you might notice a boost in video quality.
iView is the model of how to do a catch-up service right. Photo: Supplied
This is the original catch-up service that set the standard for everyone else that followed. iView puts all the ABC’s programming within reach of anyone, anytime, anywhere. It comes with a very modest download usage and a terrific, user-friendly interface (especially on the phone and tablet apps). Wide accessibility is the service’s main strength. And while that does come at the cost of picture quality, it’s a reliable, ad-free way to make sure you never miss anything our national broadcaster has to offer.