We've been looking forward to seeing what IPTV solution the guys at Juno Interactive would launch since the middle of last year. Now it's finally here - it's called Beem, it's still in beta, and we've been testing it out for a couple of weeks now. And our initial reaction is mixed.
It's important to note that this online PVR is still well and truly in its beta phase, so there are undoubtedly plenty of features planned that could completely change the way the service works. Given that it's still only available to Sydney residents as a closed beta at the moment, it's still got a while to go from being a finalised product. But having early access is still a good indication of what to expect from the service.
As mentioned, Beem is a social network-savvy online DVR. Signing up for the beta is done via Facebook, and that's not just because it's the de facto login method of choice for many websites these days. Beem accesses the information in your profile page - in particular the TV shows and movies you've indicated you enjoy - and automatically adds them to your follow list.
The follow list is at the heart of Beem, and simultaneously feels like it's not quite finished. You can follow both TV shows and movies as well as other Beem users. By following TV shows, you can easily discover when the next episode is going to air and on what channel, and from there press a button to schedule Beem to record the show. You don't have to follow a show in order to record it, and following a show in Beem doesn't send that information back to your Facebook profile either.
But at this stage, that's all the the follow function does. Despite following a heap of shows and Beem users, there's currently no features to interact with other users. There's no Twitter integration, and Beem doesn't post information back to Facebook, although it's natural to imagine all those features coming as the service progresses.
The recordings themselves are easy to schedule, with no more than a single press of a button next to a show. But there's no series link feature yet, which makes recording a manual process. And given we now have an idea about the pricing structure, you can't really record a heap of shows to watch later, even on the $10 a month premium package.
Beem is using jwplayer as their media streaming software. It works well as a streaming platform, but can be a little problematic if you're catching up on programs a little bit at a time - it doesn't automatically save where you stopped watching, for example.
Then there are the ads. Naturally it's not really surprising that the service records ads - you don't want to piss off the TV networks if you're trying to create an online service using their content. But there's no way to fast forward or skip ads easily using the player. While it makes sense from a business perspective, it's going to be a tough sell to convince people used to downloading content for free without ads to pay a monthly subscription for content with ads. Especially if (through no fault of Beem's, I'm sure) the TV networks change their programming at the last minute and you get something other than what you wanted recorded, which happened to me when I got How I met Your Mother instead of Scrubs.
It's an interesting service that still has a long way to go before it's ready for prime time. But given the severe drought of online video content services Australia's been suffering over recent years, any step forward is a welcome one, and we're looking forward to seeing where Beem can go in the future.