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Viasat – We Meet Again.

Now that the Formula 1 season has started again, I’m glued to my computer every other weekend. Last year I followed the excellent coverage by the BBC using their iPlayer service. The service is not normally available outside of the UK, but thanks to a British VPN provider I got myself a UK IP address and a fat and stable pipe straight to their servers. Since the BBC provided everything for free, I just had to pay the VPN provider a fee. Good times.

This Formula 1 season, however, the BBC shared the UK broadcasting rights with Sky and together they created a puzzle of live shows, highlights, pre-shows and whatnot that gave me a headache. The BBC only got the rights to send a handful of races live, with Sky grabbing the rest of the races. And of course, since Sky is not financed by a mandatory license, it’s pay TV. For me, that meant that I had to pay both Sky and the VPN provider to watch the races, and that got a tad too expensive.

My only real option was to turn to my old web TV adversary: Viasat.

Viasat has the exclusive rights to Formula 1 in Norway, both on TV and on the internet. Since I like to be able to see the races wherever I am, I opted to go for the internet solution, which I have done before, back during the 2010 season. In 2010 Viasat On Demand, as it was called, wasn’t really up to speed with what one would expect of a premium service. But surely they have managed to fix everything by now? I mean, it’s been a whole year since the last time I used the service, now named Viaplay.

Sadly, that’s not the case. During the first race the stream was pretty damn unstable. There were quite a lot of buffering and at least four times the stream just quit with the rather uninformative message “an error occurred, reload page and restart the stream.” I sent an e-mail to Viaplay’s support address and asked them about the poor quality of the stream. They recommended that switched browser and used Chrome instead. Because Chrome was better for streaming. Viaplay uses Silverlight for their streaming service. It’s a browser plugin. From Microsoft. All righty, then.

Last week, during the race from China, the stream didn’t work at all until 26 minutes into the race. That’s just lame. If the same thing had happened with the TV broadcast, there would have been hell to pay, even if the number of Formula 1 viewers here in Norway is ridiculously small. Still, even if there aren’t that many of us, I’m tired of web TV users being treated as second class citizens. We pay good money for a service we expect to be working flawlessly and Viasat has once again shown that they are not capable of delivering that kind of service.

Unfortunately, since they have the exclusive Formula 1 broadcast rights, no options exist. Maybe I should send Bernie an e-mail and let him know that the trademark he has used years to develop is being trashed once again by Viasat.

But even though the technical quality of the service is sub-par, perhaps they excel when it comes to coverage and commentary? No, they don’t. One of the commentators is an experienced motor sports commentator, but he knows jack about Formula 1. Here are a few of the more interesting things he’s said (so far) this season:

There’s a yellow flag on the track, Hamilton’s time won’t count.

This was during qualifying. As far as I know, there is no rule saying that a yellow flag situation on the track during qualifying will void the time set by the driver. If there’s a red flag, however, this is the case as the session is suspended immediately.

Alonso is out of Q2 [qualifying part 2], but maybe he can return for Q3 [qualifying part 3].

No. Any driver whose car stops on the circuit during the qualifying session will not be permitted to take any further part in the session. Any car which stops on the circuit during the qualifying session, and which is returned to the pits before the end of the session, will be held in parc fermé until the end of the session (section 33.2 of the sporting regulations). Yes, I actually read through the regulations. Even though I couldn’t find a good definition of “session” in this context, I’m pretty sure that they mean the entire qualifying session and not just on of the three parts, for instance Q2.

It might of course be that the commentator is right about these rules and I’m wrong, so if that’s the case, please correct me. But it’s hard to enjoy the show when you have to listen to things like these. The Viaplay interface settings had an option to switch to Swedish commentary for the first two races, but changing the option did nothing. I miss the BBC broadcast, with their top notch commentary, pit lane chit chat and the start grid walk. Both Eddie Jordan and Martin Brundle (now with Sky) has some ego issues, but at least they got to chat with the right people and they actually knew what they were talking about.

Still, all I can do is to clench my teeth together and hope that Viaplay get their act together fast.

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