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1 August 2014

The lowdown on Lightbox's line-up

Hadyn Green gives his verdict on Telecom’s new offering.

Telecom (soon to be Spark) has released more information about its upcoming on-demand video streaming service, Lightbox.

Last night they announced a number of new titles that will be available at launch alongside the previously announced 24: Live Another Day, Vikings and Mad Men.

The titles are:

Photo: Chris Keall
  • Outlander
  • Alpha House
  • Betas
  • Arrested Development
  • Masters of Sex
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Breaking Bad
  • House of Cards
  • Homeland
  • The Blacklist
  • Sons of Anarchy
  • Modern Family
  • Downton Abbey
  • The Inbetweeners
  • Orphan Black
  • Doctor Who
  • The Wiggles
  • Dora The Explorer
  • Sarah & Duck

It’s not a bad line up. Possibly the most exciting announcement is the new sci-fi show Outlander, which is coming off a lot of buzz from a recent showing at the San Diego ComicCon.

Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Arrested Development are all from Netflix. Alpha House (a political sitcom written by Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau) and Betas were both created by Amazon for its Amazon Prime service (it’s worth noting that Betas only ran one season before being cancelled).

Photo: Bigpipe Broadband

Lightbox has not got a release date yet, but they are trialling a beta service, offered to a few lucky souls around the country so they won’t be far off. From what I’ve seen the interface through the website looks a lot like Netflix

I did some basic calculations (it’s surprisingly hard to find out how many episodes of The Wiggles are available beyond “quite a lot”), and these announced shows represent roughly 900 hours or 18 percent of the total content Lightbox is promising at launch. Hopefully this means a lot more interesting announcements in the weeks to come.

Of course if you have used any streaming service before, you’ll know that the bulk of the content tends to be old and single-season TV shows and straight-to-DVD movies. Nothing exciting, but sometimes a few interesting gems. And it seems if you’re in the beta trial there is a lot more content:

But can Lightbox get the viewers it needs to survive?

For roughly the same price as Lightbox ($15/month) you can get access to Netflix and their massive collection of movies, documentaries and TV shows. But doing that means jumping through some hoops in order to gain access to the overseas service. It’s a similar situation for other overseas streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime.

For sheer simplicity, Lightbox is a winner, but it’s the content that will bring people over.

Sky TV’s new service (also yet to launch) will have a heap of content including the coveted swag of HBO shows (Game of Thrones et al), alongside other shows they already have the rights to.

I personally use Netflix already and can’t see anything yet that would make me switch and I can’t see other users of Netflix moving to Lightbox. However, if Sky does offer HBO shows alongside a large collection of other TV and movies then it could see a large influx of viewers.

On access:

At launch, Lightbox will only be available on PC/Mac via a website, and through an iOS app for iPad. If you have Apple TV you’ll be able to use AirPlay to stream it to your TV. There will be no Android app, Windows app or specific Smart TV app, though Lightbox say they are looking to expand this.

So if you want to watch Lightbox on a big screen you’ll need the Apple set-up.

There is also no captioning option for those with hearing difficulties. When I asked about this service during a conversation at last month’s Nethui conference I was told this was something Lightbox may look at in the future.

This is pretty poor in my eyes. Right now no other New Zealand online streaming service (including TVNZ and TV3) offer closed captioning. Lightbox could’ve stormed out of the gate offering this and had no competition. Frankly it’s a little disappointing.

Where to now?

I am hoping that Lightbox does well, though they have a huge number of barriers to get over. And a lot of competition. But if the content they are offering is good, they don’t offer bias to users from non-Telecom(Spark) ISPs, and it stays high quality and cheap then they may be on to a winner. But that’s a big “may”.

About the author:

Hadyn Green is a geek. He loves shiny new tech and the chance to try to break it. Because it's the kind of thing people ask, here is the tech Hadyn currently uses. Phone: Samsung Galaxy S5 Tablet: iPad mini retina. Music player: Spotify. Headphones: Sony MDR-G55 (for walking because I hate earbuds) and Beats Studio noise-cancelling (for sitting at my desk and tuning out the world). E-Reader: Kindle Touch. Gaming: PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. Internet Service Provider: Snap.

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