A room with iview
In the six years since the ABC launched the first version of iview, its free video-on-demand streaming platform, the world has changed.
Originally, the platform was only available via a web browser. Then came viewing on a PS3. Eventually, mobile apps were released and tablet apps followed. And the Xbox 360 got access to the platform.
It was a strategy that cried out for the service to be available to everyone on every device for free. But these days, limited resources means that the iview team has to pick and choose its battles.
"Ultimately it comes down to prioritising platforms where a significant audience already exists, and there’s strong demand for our content on those devices, but it’s also a balance of resources and often, timing," explains Sally O’Donoghue, iview Manager at the ABC.
A perfect example of this strategy, she tells us, was the launch of the refreshed Android iview app in late 2013.
Despite being accused of platform bias against Android following the demise of Flash (and the subsequent lack of support of the company’s original app), the team released the most recent update on Android first.
"In order to provide an app for viewers on Android tablets and phones, we needed to provision a third-party technology which could handle our preferred format of secure streaming on those devices," O’Donoghue tells us.
"That technology only became available and ready for us to use last year during the development of the app."
Beyond the traditional battle between mobile operating systems, the lack of an iview app on either the Xbox One or PS4 consoles at launch was a point noted by many keen iview consumers.
But as O’Donoghue tells us, it’s not that the platforms are being overlooked, more that they need to prioritise each platform based on demand.
"While we strive to be cross platform as possible, that doesn’t mean we have the resources to target every new platform from launch," she says.
"We are looking at Xbox One and PS4 support in the future, but don’t have anything to announce at this time."
Similarly, Apple TV users,who have long been crying out for a dedicated iview app on the streaming box should know that the iview team, too, would like to see their app appear as a dedicated button on the platform.
"We’d like to have iview as an icon on Apple TV, but in a sense we’re already there through our support for AirPlay, which makes it easy to stream to the TV and still have the rich control of a tablet or phone,"explains Peter Marks, iOS Developer, ABC TV Multiplatform.
The development team is also keeping a keen eye on devices and platforms that are heading Down Under.
"Google Chromecast is coming to Australia soon, and we’re working to investigate support for Chromecast in our clients," Marks adds.
More than just a pretty app
While the most obvious developments to the consumers appear to be on the front end, the iview team has actually been hard at work improving the back end as well.
"This update to iview is not just on the client side. The team has re-engineered the publishing system and server infrastructure, a task which involved (mostly) transparently maintaining support for existing clients and adding new streamlined APIs for the new clients," explains Bruce Collier, Technical Lead for iview.
"There is a balancing act between keeping a service reliable and stable for a huge audience, but also being able to innovate and introduce features over time," he says.
On the client side, the new iview update is designed to take advantage of the 64-bit processors found in the iPad Air and iPhone 5S.
"Recent Apple devices such as the iPhone 5S and the iPad Air have a new 64 bit CPU, and software built for arm64 gets a two times increase in performance and a reduction in the RAM used on these devices," Marks tells us.
"The user will find the app’s scrolling and transitions are smoother and generally more snappy."
The power of video on demand
Sharing is caring
Since the initial launch of iview, catch up TV services have become much more prevalent in Australia and around the world.
As you would expect, there’s a certain amount of competitor-watching going on within the industry. But what may surprise you is how collaborative the various broadcasters can be.
"Sharing learnings with other public broadcasters is very useful in terms of benchmarking our services and making sure they’re delivering great value and great experiences, as well as observing and anticipating trends in audience viewing behaviour and emerging technologies," O’Donoghue tells us.
"On the technical front, for example, the BBC has developed an open source library for building applications for connected TV devices. This is called the TV Application Layer (TAL).
"TAL is a framework we are now adopting and innovating with, as we believe it will make it much easier for us to provide a consistent set of updated features on smart TVs and gaming consoles, while reducing the overhead to update and maintain our apps on those devices."
Similarly, the iview team has been collaborating with the local free-to-air networks to improve the overall rollout of Australia’s HbbTV rollout, FreeviewPlus.
"We have been working collaboratively with the free-to-air networks to provide a compelling new experience for Australian viewers, providing on demand and live TV listings at the press of a button through the new FreeviewPlus service, which is coming soon," O’Donoghue explains.
Content is king
Even though the iview platform is a haven for plenty of great free content after it airs on the broadcast channels, the ABC isn’t ignoring the fact that the internet is a source of infinite possibility.
Following the example set by Netflix, the ABC is beginning to commission content exclusively for the iview platform.
"iview has a ‘channel’ dedicated to iview exclusive content and we have big plans for the year ahead, including some exclusive ABC TV content that was commissioned and developed especially for iview," explains O’Donoghue.
"This includes an exciting new comedy initiative, Fresh Blood, which is supporting and nurturing Australia’s emerging comedic talent, and Wastelander Panda, a groundbreaking co-production coming straight to on demand."
- Want more info on the iview app? Read our iview review