Name: Now TV
Type: Online movie streaming service
Platforms: PC and Mac, iPhone, iPad and some Android handsets (HTC Desire, Desire S, Desire HD, HTC Incredible, HTC Sensation, Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Galaxy S2) – Xbox 360 apps to follow later this year
BSkyB open up their streaming content beyond those who already pay for a Sky subscription with Now TV, a new movie streaming and rental platform. It’s got blockbuster content, but at its steep asking price does it do enough to rival the likes of Netflix and LOVEFiLM? Read on to find out.
From the off, Now TV has a key advantage over competitors like Netflix and LOVEFiLM through the sheer breadth of quality movie content it has at its disposal. For many a year now BSkyB have held the monopoly on movies from many major studio outlets, but until now it’s only been accessible to those with Sky subscription packages. Sure, we’ve been able to stream Sky content through the Sky Go mobile apps and Xbox 360 platform for some time now, but each of these first required signing up for a costly satellite TV subscription package in the first place. Now TV offers a fair chunk of Sky’s movies content to all comers, regardless of whether or not they already pay for Sky’s satellite packages.
However, compared to rivals in the streaming space, Now TV comes with a hefty premium. Whereas LOVEFiLM and Netflix cost just £4.99 and £5.99 a month respectively, Now TV weighs in with a pricey £15 a month cost for its Sky Movies Pass. Can it justify this steep asking price?
Yes. And no. You see, while Now TV could eventually offer the entire Sky Movies catalogue up for streaming, it’s currently limited to 600 flicks, which is hundreds of movies less than those offered by Netflix or LOVEFiLM. On the other hand, the quality of the Now TV movies is almost always uniformly more engaging than that of rivals, with recent decents including Captain America, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Thor and Hop among those available within the £15 a month Sky Movie Pass. All these movies are also available through the Pay & Play rental service, with older flicks costing 99p going up to £3.49 for movies just recently hitting DVD.
It’s with the older, “classic” content where Now TV frustrates the most, especially for those who have forked out for the £15 a month Sky Movies Pass. Whereas the likes of Netflix offer their entire catalogue up to customers at a single flat rate fee, Now TV holds back certain titles at Pay & Play rates, even if you’ve coughed up that monthly fee. What’s more, it’s mostly older titles that come under the umbrella of Pay & Play. For instance, 1988’s Die Hard costs £1.99 to watch, as does Back To The Future Part III. These are the sort of films that hit terrestrial TV all the time, and can be picked up in a charity shop to be owned for ever for a pittance. Surely these sorts of older classics should be available for free within the already-expensive monthly pass?
Then there’s the issue of entertainment content. At present, Now TV is limited to movies only. Content from Sky’s entertainment channels like Sky Atlantic (which includes the likes of Mad Men and Game of Thrones) is currently missing, while LOVEFiLM and particularly Netflix have robust television content and box sets of shows.
There are other flaws with the service at its current price too. At launch, it was limited to PCs and Mac computers, and a few select Android phones whose browsers can handle its web-based streaming set up. iPhone and iPad apps have landed literally during the few hours since we started writing this review, and while they’re of a high quality, gaming console apps for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are still MIA. Again, LOVEFiLM and Netflix offer all this. Also, Now TV is limited to standard definition streaming and stereo audio, and doesn’t offer the HD and 5.1 streaming of Netflix. Now TV’s standard definition playback is solid however, offering a reasonably detailed image with few artefacts and acceptable contrast levels. Adaptive streaming means that streaming over standard 6MB broadband connection will be fluid and stutter free.
Further apps are promised for the near future, with the gaming console versions getting HD content too, and there’s the promise of content from entertainment channels like Sky Atlantic and Sky Sports in the coming months as well. But for now it feels a little lacking when stacked up against the competition.
At least the user interface is good. Large scrollable movie artwork is arranged in carousels along themed rows, letting you quickly get a glimpse at some of the most popular movies available on the service. You can also browse by genre, check out curated collection of movies along similar themes, and search by actor, director or movie title. Clicking on a movie then gives a description of the movie and its pay-per-view price if applicable. The editorial content on Now TV is strong too, with well written descriptions that offer far better insight into each movie than those offered by Netflix.
But again, there are bugs that need to be ironed out, especially with the website portal. Despite showing a filter to limit search results to just those that are offered for free as part of the Sky Movies Pass, hitting the “More” button to see more than just the initial few search results then also throws in Pay & Play titles too, as well as the hidden Sky Movies Pass flicks. It makes browsing a pain.
Likewise, the sign up process can be a little confusing, if not intimidating. Despite offering a 30-day free trial, Now TV’s sign-up process makes it seem as though you’re going to have to pay £15 straight off the bat right until the last stages of registration, which will certainly turn off some potential customers looking to test the water first. Current Sky TV satellite subscribers who use the Xbox 360 or Sky Go apps may encounter difficulties with playback too if using their existing log-in details, as Sky count new devices accessing Now TV as part of your device limit. It’s a bug they’re looking to fix, but for now encourage users to use different username log-in and email details from those used with other Sky services when registering for Now TV.
It’s a little hard to give a final judgement on Now TV, as Sky have promised to fix many of our grumbles in the near future. PS3 and Xbox 360 support are on the way, along with YouView and Roku apps too, while HD streaming is said to be on the way for some platforms. However, none of these features are available at launch, and iPad and iPhone apps are late to the game. What you are left with then is a clean web-based user interface and a strong line-up of Hollywood content, at an asking price that’s frankly extortionate considering the lacking features listed above. The Pay & Play pricing seems high too considering the age of some of the movies offered, and fees for this content for those who’ve already forked out for the Movie Pass seems greedy. BSkyB’s access to top-tier entertainment content will make this one to watch in the future, but we can’t help but feel disappointed by the initial offering.