If there’s not a saying about, ‘If you’re going to have full-blown influenza, then you may as well have it while the Olympics are on’ then there probably should be. I’ve spent much of the past week bed ridden, but that’s also given me the opportunity to put a significant amount of time into using 7’s Olympic app which promises live and on-demand streaming of all Olympic coverage. With one week down, what’s the verdict and are there any improvements 7 needs to make before we hit the second, athletics-dominated week? [Note: I’m still highly feverous, mind, so if I invent any words or mix any metaphors let’s try and make lemonade.]
Firstly, We know what a good Olympic app should look like. I raved about Foxtel’s award-winning Olympic app four year’s ago. This offered great live coverage but really excelled itself when it came to on-demand ‘past’ coverage. With the latter, each event wasn’t just clearly labelled and streamable, the stream was labelled throughout so you could skip ahead to key moments, whether they were goals in field games or crashes in the long road-races. You could easily find everything and came away feeling like you’d missed very little.
7’s app attempts all of this and fails far too often.
While technically free, you have to pay $20 to unlock many sports. On paper, this is quite a reasonable price considering the amount of coverage that’s theoretically on offer. After all, Foxtel’s app was only available to subscribers who were paying a hefty amount for content in the first place. However, paying the money still means you get ads. And we’re not talking about occasional ads or skippable ads or ads that stop bombarding you with the exact same message after you’ve watched them for the fifth time in a row, but mandatory 15-second ads that appear whenever you do anything.
The home screen gives you links to the main streams and you see quickly encounter the first problem. Three of the main links are for 7’s live-streaming TV channels. But they don’t tell you what’s on. And you have to watch an ad before finding out. Because you’re on their TV channel, you could well find yourself watching ads straight away. This gets old fast. There are, however, links to some Australia-focused highlights which can be useful, but the choice is limited. And they’re all preceded by an ad. Either way, if you just want to keep up with some Aussie success stories these highlight buttons can be useful for the casual observer who doesn’t care about competition too much and just wants to see some Aussie winning performances with 7’s cheer-squad commentary.
The Live section is a good idea in theory. It provides a big-buttoned list telling you which sports are playing live and which ones are coming up and when. Generally this is good, but some of the Live segments aren’t live at all and can include old coverage. Of course, you need to watch an ad before discovering that. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is a bit too frequent.
The 'Schedule' page resembles an interactive spreadsheet of start times for each sport and which round is being covered. However, there really needs to be an updated list of who is actually competing in those rounds, otherwise you need to look at another app or website just to see who is competing. Ordinarily you’d just click to have a look yourself but that engages yet another ad. There’s a ‘Stats’ button on the right which is supposed to give you this information but it is rarely populated with the correct information. So if you really want to follow a particular sport without caring who’s competing, this can be handy but for everyone else it’s very annoying.
The ‘Sports’ page is what I found myself using the most. But it quickly leads you back into the 'Schedule' page mess. Having the day’s listings as little more than “Men’s individual/team or women’s individual/team” isn’t helpful and, of course, if you try and watch the video to find out what’s being shown you’re hit with yet another ad.
The 'Highlights’ page is like the front page but with a couple more Aussie context-less highlight reels. The 'Photos' page consists of literally a few photos from that day and is borderline pointless. The 'Country Feed' is another Highlight page only this time you can use the preferences button to change which country the highlights come from. The 'Medals' page is one of the most half-arsed you’ll see anywhere: telling you how many medals of each colour have been won by different countries but not saying what events they were won in, who won them and there are no links to watching them being won. A real missed opportunity there.
But what really counts is the video feed and it too is a mess. Live coverage virtually never has commentary. We know it’s there because it usually starts off well and then vanishes – fading in for a second every once in a while. This has been happening for a full week now and it’s staggering that it hasn’t been fixed. For those wondering, the default English-speaking feeds are usually high-quality and come from expert British and Kiwi commentators rather than Channel 7’s banal, cheer-leaders who spend much of their time reading out bios on the Australian competitor rather than providing insight and context for the audience. But it’s hardly ever available.
For the on-demand, catch-up video, things aren’t always better. Sometimes the commentary is there – either with the default Olympic coverage or 7’s own – but often it isn’t. Unintuitively, having negotiated the Schedule listings and sat through an ad you’ll then need to press the ‘Qualifiers’ button which will list the individual events in that stream. This looks straightforward as you can literally choose your event and the stream will advance to that part of the broadcast. However, the labelling is often wrong and the pressing on a link goes to a different event altogether. What’s worse though is that the ‘key moment’ links on the timeline are frequently completely wrong and despite saying things like “goal to so and so” again move you away to a completely different event altogether. In my testing I’d say the vast majority of links are broken.
And it’s the latter that’s the biggest shame. It’s one thing not to label the video streams very well and dump ads on people for simply trying to find what they want, but once they’ve found that content it should at least work. One example of a total failure was the Women’s 100m breaststroke final which hit social media because of subsequent events that transpired. If you try and find that on the app, you simply can’t. It says it’s there but the links are all borked.
As a captive audience member I’d have watched a lot more Olympic coverage by now if the terrible user experience of this app was improved. Too often I got stuck watching several ads back to back trying to find the final round of, say, a gymnastics event, only to get frustrated and turn it off. I’d happily pay more money to get rid of those ads but also I’d happily watch more of them if they were skippable in the first place.
I will give the app some feint praise though. This morning it woke me up with a notification about the men’s Rugby final between Great Britain and Fiji – I don’t think it was shown live on TV. While the commentary failed I’d likely have missed what must be the best moment of the games so far if the app hadn't warned me. However, I also need to note, that while the app has rarely buffered on my cable broadband connection, many people still can't connect to it at all. Details on each case are sketchy at present, though.
With Athletics soon to kick off, it would be great if 7 could implement some basic fixes and minimise these ads – many Australians will want to flick through various athletic events over the coming week (especially as most will happen in the middle of the night) and the terrible user experience is simply going to drive them away.
There’s potential for a decent app here, but so far it’s at 5/10