A look at NOW TV, Sky’s foray into the online streaming racket

Friday July 20th 2012

As an avid Netflix subscriber and reluctant Lovefilm martyr, I’m always eager to try out the latest online film streaming services, especially because most of them turn out to be absurdly, comically shit. So when Sky launched their ‘Netflix killer’ earlier this week, I was eager to give it a test drive, confident that — whatever happened — it would be better than Curzon On Demand.

NOW TV (cool name, bro) has a few unattractive qualities that are worth mentioning up front. Unlike the two aforementioned industry leaders, it does not support HD streaming on any device. It also offers no support for PS3s or Xbox 360s. Oh, and it costs £15 a month, almost three times the price of its biggest competitors.

The service also requires subscribers to choose a username when they sign up. This will be used not only to log in but also on the ‘NOW TV Community’ pages, where users can trade film recommendations/negative Dark Knight Rises reviews/complaints about streaming quality. I’m hesitant to use my real name so I eventually go for an alias.

Once I gain entry to the site, I’m immediately impressed by how recent most of the films on offer are:

Jack and Jill only hit cinemas in February, and 21 Jump Street is even newer. In fact, the whole of the homepage seems to favour recent releases, while catalogue titles are hidden away in the ‘genres’ section. Some of the movies are so new they’re not even accompanied by recognisable artwork:

Sadly, I soon realise that the vast majority of these films are ‘Pay & Play’ titles, which require you to pay a one-off cost of £3.49 on top of your £15 subscription fee to view them. I flick a switch allowing me to see only the films included in the basic package and am left with a distinctly less impressive selection:

Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son, Bad Teacher and the Kate Hudson bum cancer movie — it’s a game of cinematic ‘would you rather’ waiting to happen. Eventually I decide to abandon the new releases and dig into the archives in order to test out the quality of the streaming. And because I’m a firm believer in scientific method, I minimise my variables by seeking out the very film I performed my Netflix quality test on back in January:

After coming to terms with this shocking inadequacy, I decide to settle for a different movie. I peruse the ‘collections’ page in search of one of ‘life’s great dramas’…

… but find only deeply flawed dramedies devoid of a single common thread. I reason that I might have more luck in the ‘movies you always wanted’ section…

… but, while closer to what I’m looking for, none of these seem right either. Even a search for HRH Hugh Grant proves fruitless, yielding only his greatest film (Pay & Play) and his worst (included in package)…

I eventually plump for the 2003 Matthew McConaughey rom-com How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days (found in the ‘Modern Greats’ section, incidentally) and hit the fateful ‘Play Movie’ button, only to be confronted by this:

One quick download and a 30-second install later, I’m no closer to finding out what ‘Microsoft Silverlight’ is but I am a lot closer to viewing my movie, at least until a ‘t3222-c1501’ error scuppers my plans at the last minute:

Frustrated, I turn in desperation to the one man capable of saving any sinking ship:

This time around, the stream launches almost immediately, but fails miserably where quality is concerned. Grainy, murky and just generally not-very-good, the service provided by NOW TV seems wildly out of step with most free online content providers, let alone ones that expect you to pay £15 a month for the pleasure of their company. And while I’ll admit that as a TalkTalk customer I’m not best equipped to judge the speed or quality of any service that expects its customers to possess internet connections faster than 56K, I can usually get 720p going on Netflix — whereas NOW looks like this:

The Justin Bieber movie meanwhile turns out to be a genuinely fascinating glimpse into the life of the ‘cherubic Canadian warbler’ and his personal army of stylists, publicists and ego-strokers. Oh, and his stage manager, Scrappy…

… but nonetheless, I soon give up on the film and retreat to the ‘community’ pages, which seem to be populated mostly by confused victims of the ‘t3222-c1501’ error. Others just want to know if there’s any plan to provide support for PS3 users, or the deaf:

To which the answer is a decidedly wishy-washy ‘no comment’:

Netflix can rest easy: they’re at no risk of a dethroning any time soon.