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TV Apps’ Dirty Little Secret

Talk to anyone in the television industry and they’ll tell you that OTT is the wave of the future, OTT apps in particular. In addition to allowing for greater choice, they offer a far superior consumer experience than the slothful set top boxes our pay-TV operators foist on us.

Or do they?

The top 10 entertainment apps in the iOS App Store get terrible reviews. For example, half of the 55,000+ people who rated the ABC TV app gave it just 1 star—and the comments are even worse.



Specific complaints are about crashes, bugs, lack of airplay support, endless commercials, poor quality streaming, and more. (With tens of thousands of negative reviews, there are a lot of problems!)

The integration of advertising and TV programming seems to be a massive failure for all these apps. The apps that have advertising replay ads ad nauseam (“Ad nauseam”—did ancient Romans know about OTT apps too?) They hang up on ads too—a lot.

Other times the ads play perfectly in HD quality (maybe they are using a pre-launch version of Pied Piper, the video compression software from HBO’s Silicon Valley) but then the TV programming fails or streams at much lower quality—another form of Ad nauseam.

Other problems that disgruntled users have mentioned include complicated user interfaces and apps that don’t remember that you’ve already watched 15 minutes of the show, or (worse) do remember that you’ve been watching, but insist on replaying all the ads you’ve already watched. (20 ads in a row, from the same 4 advertisers!)

There are also authentication issues. One common complaint is that the apps frequently forget you’ve already passed their complicated authentication scheme to prove you are indeed a paying a cable subscriber and so when you relaunch the app, you find you’ve been logged out. Which means it’s time to go find the cable bill in order to find your log in credentials… again.

These are extremely popular apps that are supposed to take over the TV industry. They are offered by TV networks that in some cases also own internet infrastructure. The CityTV, Global TV and Shomi apps in Canada are run by Rogers and Shaw, two major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Canada. The former also owns the largest mobile network in Canada. These three apps, plus the CTV app owned by Bell the other major ISP and mobile network in Canada, have a total 21,630 reviews in the App Store with 10,399, or 48% of them, one star reviews.

The Comcast-owned, NBC app seems to be getting it right, especially with its most recent version. Only 7% of its reviews are one star, but complaints for video quality, video sync and dropped video persist. These kinds of reviews can’t help Comcast ISP subscribers feel good can they?

Even popular apps get poor reviews. HBO NOW app is the object of many a tech-blogger’s lust, but just under 50% of its ratings are one star, and there are lots of two and three star reviews as well. Granted disgruntled users are more prone to leave reviews than happy ones, but when the majority of reviewers are unhappy, you know something is afoot. (Netflix, by comparison, has a preponderance of 5-star reviews. Which likely accounts for their 50 million plus subscribers.)

HBO Review

This is not to say that OTT is a bad idea or that all OTT apps suck. Just that if the industry isn’t going to make marked improvements in customer experience with their OTT apps, it will be very easy to the MPVDs to lure customers back. Pay TV customers pay a lot of money for the privilege of watching their favorite shows and the cost of subscribing to multiple network apps adds up very quickly. If the industry wants consumers to spend that kind of money, it needs to reward them and provide them with a premium app experience. Those that do, like Netflix, will come out on top.

netflix on top


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