Rowan's World, et Cetera

Watching Le Tour on ITV. Or trying to.

by Rowan on 5 July, 2009

I’m a bit of an annual cycling fan – that is, I get really into the Tour de France every summer, and barely follow the sport at all the rest of the year. It’s a bit like only watching Tennis when Wimbledon’s on, or football when it’s the World Cup. Which, come to think of it, I do a bit too – but not as regularly.

Now, part of this is because the Tour de France is the only professional cycling race that’s generally covered on “mainstream” TV – I’ve never had the “luxury” of Eurosport. A few years ago, even that was in doubt, with Channel 4 suddenly dumping the rights, and ITV rather half-heartedly taking them over. Which brings me to this year’s “good news, bad news” story.

  • Good News: ITV4 has a daily 1-hour highlights programme. Which frankly is as much as I can take every day for 3 weeks. And they have the same great team I’ve been watching for over 15 years, including commentators Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett, who I recently discovered simultaneously cover it for the US channel Versus, dropping out of conversation to introduce completely different advert breaks and special features!
  • Bad News: I live in Eastbourne. For those that don’t know, this means a digital switchover date of 2012, and only 4 (yes, that’s 4, folks!) channels without a satellite dish until then.
  • Good News: ITV4 is streamed live online. And I even have a set-up that allows me to watch that on my TV!
  • Bad News: It’s on too early. The highlights programme is on every night at 19:00; the earliest I get home from work is 19:15.
  • Good News: It’s also available via the ITV Player on-demand service!
  • Bad News: The ITV Player is a heap of junk.
  • The End.

OK, I’ll justify that statement a bit:

  1. The 1st thing I was greeted with when I went to the site was a “pop-over” asking if I’d like to take a survey about the Coronation Street website. I checked; they really were asking everyone who clicked “ITV Player” what they thought of their Corrie microsite. Oops.
  2. The 2nd thing I was greeted with was a Flash advert pop-over that didn’t have a background or bounding box, and appeared partly in front of and partly behind the survey box.
  3. The navigation uses the most pointlessly non-standard controls I’ve ever seen, including a bizarre Flash-driven combo-box that takes 2 seconds to appear, and 2 microseconds to get bored of you and close while you’re scrolling through it. If you do manage to click on a programme title, you have to click a “Go” button next to it; because, you know, you might want to do something else; like run away from this monstrosity!
  4. Once you have found the programme you want, the Silverlight-based video player is not the best I’ve ever seen. To be fair, it’s a lot better than it was – it now has a proper seek bar, which marks advert breaks but only makes you watch one at a time, rather than the “skip to start of next advert break” the previous version featured. Oh, and it actually works in Firefox this time. But whose bright idea was the tiny volume control? And what is the “Unpin Controls” button supposed to do?
  5. Every now and then, one of the video files seems to go missing. Some poor shift-worker mistypes a filename or something, I don’t know. This would be kind of annoying if it meant that a programme was listed as available but wouldn’t play, but ITV split their programmes at advert breaks. So you start watching a 1-hour highlights programme, get to the “find out who won after the break”, watch the advert break, and… Nothing.

    When this 1st happened to me, the service (then called “ITV Catch-up”) was fairly new, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt – “teething problems” and all that. But it’s still happening. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone in my frustration either. The current player sits there repeatedly trying to load the video until you stop it or skip to a section that exists, so I’ve been leaving it running in case someone notices some weird anomalies on their access logs.

Ah well, I guess it’s better than nothing. Most of the time.

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