Saturday 21 September 2019

Pat Stacey: Is the new RTE Player any good?

New content like The Doireann Project and old favourites like Love/Hate and RAW are available on the new player

The Doireann Project
The Doireann Project

Pat Stacey

The wait — assuming you were waiting, rather than just getting on with your life, which would have been the sensible thing to do — is over. The brand spanking new version of the RTE Player is finally here. More or less.

The beta version of the player’s latest iteration went online last week. By now, it should be available on all the applicable devices. And all it’s taken is three years of development.

Three years. That’s a year more than it took to make Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which is on RTE1 on Christmas Day, by the way).

Still, the news will be greeted with tentative optimism by anyone who’s ever used what I suppose we’ll soon be calling “the old RTE Player” — an experience, as most of us can testify, that wasn’t always pleasant.

To be brutally honest, the old RTE Player (see, I’ve started doing it already) could sometimes be, to put it as mildly as I possibly can, a pile of crap.

The frustrations were manifold and maddening. The buffering and freezing and fuzzy picture, even when watching on a laptop with a high-speed Wi-Fi connection; the random jumps back to the beginning of a programme, which of course meant having to endure the adverts all over again.

Personally speaking, one of the most annoying recent experiences was trying to watch a live World Cup match on the Player’s phone app while sitting in a parked car.

The sound was flawless; pity there was no picture to go with it. Needless to say, the ads played perfectly.

But the real question about the new version is not how long it took to develop or even how much it cost, but whether it’s any good.

It certainly looks great. The interface is more user-friendly. The graphic design is sleek, clean, modern and much more pleasing to the eye. It’s smoother to navigate, the content is better organised and easier to find, and there’s a lot more of it to find.

Clearly, plenty of thought has gone into appealing to the apparently vitally important 15-34 age group, who have been drifting away from conventional television in their droves and may not even use the RTE Player for catch-up purposes.

They’re more likely to watch bite-sized content rather than an hour-long drama or a half-hour comedy, so the new player responds to this demand with original online-only content like The Doireann Project, a sketch show with episodes lasting just 12 minutes — perfect for a short bus trip and a short attention span.

This kind of content will only increase, although whether RTE will follow the lead of the BBC, Channel 4 and even rival Virgin Media of making a full drama series available on its online player immediately after the broadcast of the first episode (which is what happened with Virgin Media’s Blood) remains unclear.

There are other improvements, such as being able to cast to a smart TV — although it’s not possible to download content to watch offline when you’re on the go. The bugbear remains the same: those interminable, unskippable ads.

For anyone over 34, the most interesting new feature is probably the relatively small but eclectic box-set collection — a mixture of dramas, comedies, documentaries and lifestyle shows (old and new), home-produced and imported. Mind you, flicking through the list left me feeling a little wistful.

Seeing oldies like Love/Hate, Bachelors Walk, Trivia and Lisa Derry Girls Magee’s RAW sharing digital shelf space with guff like Striking Out, Bridget & Eamon, Acceptable Risk and the underwhelming Taken Down is a reminder of just how good RTE drama and comedy sometimes could be in the past, and how unforgivably dire the majority of it is these days.

But the make-or-break issue with any online player is functionality. The updated app on my iPhone seems to be working well enough. When I tried the new RTE Player on my laptop, however, I was led to a totally black screen. I hope this is not a preview of things to come.


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