Last night, I sat down in front of my TV to watch the Eurovision 2017 Grand Final on SBS. Then I quickly caught up on the day’s news on ABC — I was out for most of the day. I had a bit of a muck around on YouTube. Then I switched over to Foxtel and watched the F1. I did all of this without anything other than a power cable plugged into my TV. And it felt f**king futuristic.
On my 2016 Samsung SUHD TV — so a new telly, but not the newest and most exciting QLED — I have a whole bunch of streaming video apps installed — Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Play, ABC iView, SBS On Demand, YouTube and so on. Your TV might have them too. I haven’t really paid them much mind until now; I’ve got an Xbox plugged in and it generally does a better job — and it would have done this same job, which is also my point.
I don’t have an antenna plugged into this TV. A year ago, one Eurovision ago, this would have been A Big Problem. But it wasn’t. Because over the last couple of years, and especially the last few months, the experience of watching free-to-air broadcast TV in Australia without the broadcast bit has become pretty impressively good.
I know this is a low bar to set, but that’s because up until recently the state of play for Australia’s streaming video was pretty fucking terrible. It’s been a tough road to get to where we are now, and it feels like it’s been a hard-won battle. We got iView in 2008, and that was awesome. We got the commercial networks’ streaming apps a while after. We got Foxtel Play instead of just… Foxtel. We got Chromecast-enabled TV streaming apps. We got HD streams. We got live streams.
— Cambl Simpson (@csimps0n) May 13, 2017
Last night was just about the first time I’ve tried to do this where everything just worked seamlessly. I could switch between the Foxtel Play app and the SBS On Demand app in about five seconds — longer than a good ol’-fashioned channel click, sure, but still pretty impressive considering my mediocre internet at home and the fact that it’s, y’know, Aussie internet in the first place. Buffering wasn’t a thing.
The picture looked good, and the sound sounded good. It looked like, y’know, digital TV looks — not gorgeous, but serviceable. Both internet-delivered live streams were more or less live, so I could tweet along with the #SBSEurovision or #F1 hashtags and not be embarrassingly behind the action. My experience just ticked all the boxes it needed to tick. It didn’t feel like an utter goddamn challenge like it has in the past.
I could jump between the SBS live stream and YouTube to show my mum one of the semi-final Eurovision performances that had already aired. I could jump back into the SBS app and have it streaming again seconds later. Later in the night, I could jump between the first couple of laps of the F1 and the hilariously It was an absolutely normal TV experience, just like the old days, except it was all delivered over the internet. This is goals, people.
This is a genuine achievement, too, whether you’re a cash-strapped national broadcaster or a cable TV giant with a massive legacy system of poles and wires and coaxial cable and set-top boxes. This isn’t an ad for Samsung, it isn’t an ad for SBS or Foxtel; it’s just a hooray that things are better than they were. I am genuinely excited to watch this phenomenon of TV on the internet slowly evolve in the years to come.
We’re finally getting somewhere.