After reading my sister's post about CTV's Robson Arms and their cool decision to put episodes online I decided to check it out. Turns out they've made an uncool decision to exclude Linux users from watching.
He goes on to talk about his difficulties (eventually resolved through web geekitude) with CBC's site, too. He's not alone in his frustration. I couldn't easily view the Robson Arms episodes in Firefox, and by the time I'd realized it might be a browser issue and tried Internet Explorer, which worked, the second season had started airing and I'd given up on catching up. A writer on Robson Arms, David Moses, has pointed out that he can't view them on his Mac. Hmm, don't a lot of writers and artsy types use Macs? He's doing his best to be an evangelist for a website he doesn't have full access to, but it's a little sad that he's not part of the audience for the site.
Looking quickly at browser stats, in Canada, Internet Explorer has about 79% of the market, Firefox has 14%, Safari has 5%. Operating system stats (I assume these are US or international figures) show Windows has about 90% of the market, Mac about 6%, and Linux ... well, I won't break my brother's heart by pointing out they're sitting at only 0.35%. Oh. Maybe I will.
Looking carefully at those stats, you can see why the easy, default solution is to go with something that will work on a Windows operating system running Internet Explorer. That combination represents the majority.
Looking even more carefully, you'd see why strategy is a very, very bad one. If your video will only play in Internet Explorer, you could estimate that 2 out of 10 people who visit your site will not be able to view it. If it will only work in Windows, 1 out of 10 people won't be able to see it.
These are rough estimates with bad statistical analysis, but think about what it means to exclude any browser or operating system: your targeted or viral marketing has worked and enticed these people to come to your site, but your product is not available to them. My brother and I and David Moses weren't casual web surfers. We went to the Robson Arms site specifically to view the videos, and were unable to. They had us ... and then they lost us. Well, Dave might have already seen those episodes, and might have an incentive to stick around despite his browser issues. Still.
I don't mean to suggest this is strictly a Canadian TV issue. Far from it. There are many, many other sites that aren't considering visitors who use anything other than Internet Explorer on a PC. I am the pot calling the kettle black, because the website I'm responsible for at work is only capable of hosting Windows Media Player videos. I had little to do with the decision making, though, and I've learned to pick my IT battles and then wait a couple of years to see who won. Anyway, this post isn't about me and my failings, it's about the Canadian television industry bigwigs and theirs. They have a thicker skin than I do, and they have the nerve to talk about their wonderful multi-platform strategies before they can even figure out how to post a video properly.
TV suits, internationally and locally, are talking a lot about multiple platforms, about how they have to create more than simply a television show, they have to create a user experience that extends online, on cell phones, on iPods, on milk cartons. Maybe not always milk cartons. But they love the online part. They love it. And they talk a lot about it, but they're not doing a very good job of doing it.
Forget videos that alienate at least 1 in 10 people who seek them out. Canadian TV websites barely update their information-based content, never mind use the web to its most powerful advantage. There's not much evidence of the so-called Web 2.0 in the TV industry, though it represents the cutting-edge, user-centric strategy the suits are salivating over.
One of the hallmarks of a good Web 2.0 site is one that hands over non-essential control to users, letting them contribute content, participate socially, and even fundamentally shape the site itself. The premise is that users will do a surprising amount of the hard work necessary to make the site successful, right down to creating the very information the site offers to its other users and even inviting their friends and family members to use it. Web 2.0 newcomers MySpace and YouTube have shown how this can be done on a mass scale surprisingly quickly, and of course older generation successes like eBay and craigslist have been doing this for years.
Interactivity with the viewer doesn't just mean slapping up a forum or putting multimedia elements on the site and crossing your fingers that someone will use them and make the effort worthwhile. It is about things like getting users to create and distribute your content for you. Using tags, widgets, user-generated content, syndicating your content with RSS. (I have yet to even find a Canadian TV website that lets me subscribe to an RSS feed or e-mail alert to find out when the next episode airs, or what it's about.)
It's about giving visitors the tools to create mash ups. Getting people to sign up for e-mail alerts and then actually sending them something. (Hello almost every Canadian TV show that has an e-newsletter sign up button on your website: How about sending regular schedule updates? Information on new additions to the site? Anything? Don't just take my e-mail address and disappear into the ether. Robson Arms gets a pat on the back so far, but keep it up.)
There's a quote I love that's attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What you do speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you say." So until the TV industry can get the basics of a website down pat, like telling me when the next episode will air, or posting a video I can view, I'd love it if they'd just shut up about the multi-platform experience that goes along with their shows.