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Web-TV – How Not To Do It.

You’re probably getting really tired of all the Formula 1 entries lately, yes? Even though this entry does contain a hint of F1 drama, fear not. It covers other things I know you love, like computers, the internet and moving pictures – or “video” as we’ve all come to know it.

Formula 1 is big business. Under the watchful eye of Bernie Ecclestone, F1 has turned into a billion dollar business, and it’s still expanding. In 2014 there will even be a race in Russia. A lot of the money Bernie is stuffing in his mattress come from TV networks all around the globe buying the rights to air the F1 races. In the Nordics, Swedish Viasat owns the rights to all TV and internet distribution and while they did broadcast the races on free TV channels a few years ago, they’ve now – unsurprisingly – moved everything to pay TV and subscription and pay-per-view based internet streaming.

Viasat, like many other TV networks, loves packaging their TV channels and it’s not possible to subscribe only to the channel that shows Formula 1. So to watch the races on my television, I have to pay for a lot of channels I’ll never use. Thankfully, they offer that other option – internet streaming at Viasat OnDemand. But their streaming service really has a lot to be desired. Here are a few good reasons why you should avoid using Viasat’s on demand internet service and spend your hard earned money some other place.

My attempts at watching Formula 1 on Viasat OnDemand have been riddled with trouble all season. One time they failed to start the stream until 15 minutes into a race and the stream occasionally drops for no apparent reason. If it drops more than hour after you logged in, Viasat OnDemand has taken the liberty to log you out automatically, so you have to go through the login process again before you’re able to access the stream again. The login process is simple and only takes a few seconds, but those few seconds might be the wrong seconds when Hamilton manages to spin off the track once again – something I of course want to see live.

Viasat OnDemand also failed miserably to stream the postponed qualifying from the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, something that could have been easily avoided had they been dedicated to deliver a high quality streaming service. But during the last race from Korea they really managed to fuck everything up quite badly: For an hour of the race the stream was just impossible to watch. At one frame per second and with crappy or no sound, it was anyone’s guess what was going on in Korea. From my experience with streaming, it looked like a server or encoder that had to be restarted, a rather simple operation for pretty much anyone with some experience with computers. Still, it took an hour for Viasat OnDemand to fix it. If the TV channel had had the same problem, I’m sure it would have been fixed immediately.

All that said, I managed to find a way to watch most of the race, in spite of the failing stream. Viasat OnDemand also offers the same streaming service for high end mobile phones, like my Android phone. That service worked flawlessly, without a single problem. And there’s quite a bit of irony in that: When using the service, I thought the IP address used looked familiar, and a little bit of digging confirmed my suspicion: The streaming service for mobile phones is provided by Rubberduck Media Lab, a company I worked for for five years. Good work, guys!

You’d think that the quality on a mobile phone would be crappy, but compared to the web stream provided by Viasat OnDemand, the mobile version looked crystal clear. I’m capable of streaming full HD channels to my TV and I wouldn’t mind it if Viasat OnDemand cranked up the quality of their web streams quite a lot. But I doubt that will happen – bandwidth is expensive.

So what are the options when Viasat is not capable of delivering a service worth the money they charge and subscribing to Viasat’s TV channels is out of the question? Go pirate. Search the interwebs for a free, pirated stream. They are out there, I’ve had to use one myself already when Viasat OnDemand didn’t stream the postponed qualifying from Japan. I know this makes me a hypocrite, since I normally condemn piracy in every form. If you listen to music that you like, buy the CD. If you see a movie you love, buy the DVD. If someone has used a lot of time, energy and money to create something you enjoy, don’t they deserve a few bucks for the effort? Of course they do.

Then Viasat deserves some money for their efforts, too right? And they did pay a lot of money for the distribution rights. But the quality Viasat OnDemand service is so poor at times, I’m pretty sure Bernie would have demanded that it would either be shut down or at least fixed in a hurry if he had any idea what was going on. In effect, Viasat is damaging a brand he and his organization of billionaires have used many, many years to create. Not good. If there was a high quality streaming service available that was not Viasat’s, I would have paid for it – but since they have exclusive rights, sadly there isn’t.

The bottom line in all this is that as long as internet streaming doesn’t get the same kind of support attention and quality as TV channels, it’s not worth the money. Next year I’m not paying for Viasat OnDemand or subscribing to any of Viasat’s channels to watch the Formula 1 races. But one thing is for sure, I will watch the races – one way or another.

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  1. @Miguel – yeah, the service was kick ass. Not a single rebuffer during the hour I watched and great quality.

    @Ajey – I have no idea if you’re sarcastic or not! Are you by any chance in London next weekend?

  2. I am capable of giving deserved compliments you know!… genuinely loved the way you write..

    yea, I get to London on the 9th or 10th,.. anniken was saying you guys are planning to be there.. when?