Digital Life: No broadband required -- UPC's new on-demand service is TV heaven...
Once upon a time, TV was a one-way medium. The channels broadcast what they wanted, when they wanted and it was up to the viewer to fit themselves around that schedule.
The video recorder kickstarted the revolution and the likes of TiVo and Sky+ lit a fire under it. But on-demand TV will change the way we watch the gogglebox forever.
We're not quite at the point where we can watch anything we like whenever we like -- movie studios and TV show makers are too stupid and greedy for that yet -- but we're getting there.
UPC took a baby step towards that dream last week with the launch of on-demand programming -- some free -- to its digital TV customers. Little in the new service has not been available online before -- for a fee. But UPC smartly pulls together a lot of content and pipes it into the home via your remote control and telly, no broadband required. Convenience is the key.
The three planks to the on-demand programming are: catch-up services from RTÉ/TV3 (TG4 is coming soon); movie rentals; and a swathe of full TV box sets.
The catch-up services are already widely available on the web, iPad, etc, as well as a few internet-connected TVs and devices such as the PS3.
It's neat to have it on UPC, but note that in both RTÉ and TV3's cases, the shows encompass only a subset of what's available online, and some of it goes back only seven days. The quality of catch-up TV blown up on a big screen can leave something to be desired too.
Consumers don't lack for online movie rental options such as iTunes but UPC bundles one in anyway, with new movies priced slightly above the Apple service and featuring a much smaller catalogue of fewer than 500 flicks. But it's a start.
The last plank is perhaps the most interesting, but it's available only to those on higher UPC TV packages starting at €35 per month.
It grants access to 46 box sets such as Dexter, Blue Bloods, Wallander and Doctor Who -- and not just a few seasons either, all of them. Plus, you can dig into 37 series -- mainly kids shows and a sprinkling of documentaries from the History and Discovery channels.
UPC says much of the programming will be in HD and the catalogue will grow regularly. As a service, it competes with the likes of Netflix (€7 a month) and Sky Anytime (free to subscribers).
In certain ways, it covers more ground than both and if you're already a UPC TV subscriber (the gradual rollout should reach all customers by autumn), it provides several good reasons to keep shelling out every month.