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« Veoh: Different Approach, Same Goal | Main | How Much is Your Identity Worth? »

Zattoo – Missing Something

By | August 30, 2007 |

The number of IPTV operators knows no boundaries. There is a significant amount of activity, a lot of which is starting to focus on live (linear) TV relay. The model is of a P2P based application that rebroadcasts existing TV signals to subscribers on the internet. “The Slingbox without the box” isthe analogy most often used and it sums it up well. The target market is the expatriate community first and foremost – in particular sports fans who live or work abroad.

The legality is still questionnable but the demand is not. Now is the time to throw all the applications into the mix because sooner or later the market is going to start whittling down their numbers. Some will fall foul of licensing restrictions but it is likely that some will emerge to offer an alternative to Joost – assuming of course that Joost doesn’t also move into the live TV market itself.

The launch of Microsoft’s Livestation this autumn will up the stakes and raise public awareness but there is still time to make a play because expectations are not yet set – if you make a mess of it now, you are likely to be forgiven on the basis that it is still an early stage development. Do the same in a year’s time and you’ll be history.

It seems that anything and everything is being released for invite only beta now. A lot of money has gone into a number of different startups in this space over the last year or so since Joost gave the IPTV concept credibility with its cleverly executed, high profile and yet gradual release. Zattoo is another in a long line of wanabees.

What did I Miss?
If I was Simon Cowell and Zattoo came to audition for the X-Factor, I would tear them to pieces. They might even leave in tears with their dreams of stardom shattered. But hey, Mr Nasty I am not so a bad review from me may not be the end of the world for them – they have certainly received some good press elsewhere. I just can’t help wondering though, what do others see that I missed?

You see, if you have a TV in your house already – and many households have at least one TV per inhabitant – I cannot see why you would choose to watch something on the PC that you can watch in significantly better quality on the TV. Zattoo is not catchup TV and you can’t even record from it. All it allows you to do is to watch what is on the much bigger box sitting in a much more comfortable room in your house.

I suppose if all the TVs are in use there might be a small niche but the video quality in my test was poor: jerky, blocky and stuttery. Some have reported that the experience is good in a small window – and yes it is ok, but why do you want to watch on a window a quarter the size of even the most basic TV?

Abroad on Business?
Perhaps if you are abroad on business and can’t get the Beeb on your hotel room telly you might use Zattoo, but if that’s you, then a) you are part of a very small niche and b) you probably also know about the Slingbox.

The “Slingbox without the box” and to a point I can see that analogy. Again though, I am missing something – this time the wealth of channels that we have on our regular platforms. You see, there is no ITV1, let alone ITV2/3/4 and there is no Channel4 or Five. Sky? No chance.

If I was using a Slingbox, I would have the lot, but with Zattoo I have the BBC’s catalogue and a few foreign channels. Perhaps I will reserve final judgment until a later date but if a system launched like this in a year’s time, it would quickly be toast.

An Alternative Niche
Perhaps this is just SkiverTV. In the office and can’t be bothered to work…?

No, I can’t see it – there is nothing good on BBC daytimethat would appeal even to the most workshy. It is possible that come Wimbledon or the Open golf that some people may tune if briefly, but the resolution is nowhere near clear enough to see a tennis ball let alone a golf ball so it doesn’t offer much hope. Note, that is a criticism of all IPTV I have seen so far – watching sport is pointless because you can’t see the ball.

Oh yes, and your IT administrator is going to see the media stream pretty clearly and know what’s been going on. Unlike radio, where you can argue that you can work while listening to the cricket, if anyone can convince the boss that they can work while watching TV on their computer screen they should apply for an award.

P2P TV?!?
There was also no evidence in my tests of any P2P in spite of the fact that this has been trailed as P2P TV. All the content came from Zattoo’s network in Zurich even though it was being aired live on terrestrial BBC here in the UK. Perhaps this is because I have one of the first test accounts, so I shall be a little cautious in my judgment but it certainly seems to be missing that aspect.

Perhaps because there is no P2P network established in the UK and perhaps because I tried it as soon as I got it, at peak internet time (between 8pm and 9pm on Sunday/Monday evenings), the picture quality was rubbish.

Poor Quality Pictures
Other applications that I benchmarked at the same time like VeohTV, Joost and iPlayer downloads performed much better.

This was not a bandwidth issue, at least not one on my broadband network, although perhaps there was some congestion on the London to Zurich routes. Wherever the problem was, it did not affect anything else I tried – there was a significant amount more capacity available than was used by the Zattoo application. It averaged just under 550kbps, although it varied between 1.3Mbps and 400kbps. My line can do 2Mbps comfortably and has been known (again with Veoh) to get up to 3.2Mbps.

So here we have a TV station offering lower quality pictures and less choice than regular TV, with no on demand features. Do I think it’s going to fly? I’ve been wrong before, and I will be wrong again but no – I don’t see this as a survivor, nor even as a buyout target. A waste of money? Perhaps.

Damning Conclusion
So Zattoo in my eyes at least, is missing something. Missing a lot of somethings in fact, but perhaps they still have time to fix the issues before the market starts whittling down the candidates. If Zattoo are making a list, they should start with the picture quality and make sure this is 100%, add in something that makes the experience better than a simple free to air TV service (on demand / PVR perhaps?) and make sure that all the channels that I can get via the alternative are included in their offer.

I am not writing off live TV entirely with this conclusion. The major player in the niche is Microsoft’s LiveStation which I would very much like to test. If anyone can help me get past the gatekeeper on that trial, please get in touch as I have applied twice and been ignored twice. Maybe they don’t want to run the risk that I won’t like it? That’s certainly one way to protect your brand and if you are Microsoft you might even get away with it.

Zattoo however are not Microsoft and they really do have a long way to go in my view – and not much time in which to execute. I just can’t see it working for them.

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