First Look: SeeSaw

You know iPlayer? It's good isn't it? The trouble is  that you can only get BBC programmes on it, which is okay if you like BBC programmes, but what if you don't? What if you want to watch Channel 4 or Five shows? In steps SeeSaw.

SeeSaw has been born out of the ashes of the Project Kangaroo, which was set up by BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC), ITV and Channel 4. After being blocked by the Competition Commission and then vetoed by the BBC Trust the creation was then sold off, becoming SeeSaw in the process.

Expected to be launched at the end of February or the beginning of March, we've pulled some strings and got in on the invite-only beta, so we can see what it's like and whether you should bother when it launches.

Basically think BBC iPlayer combined with Channel 4's 4oD service combined with Five's on demand offering and you get the idea. The web-based application will work on any browser on the PC and Mac and streams content, i.e., TV shows, directly to your screen either in a small window or full screen formats.

The player is incredible basic allowing you to play, pause and skip your way through shows and it is easy to master thanks to a simple and clean interface. The player takes, as you would expect, top billing on the page with relevant listings data and the ability to watch other episodes in the series underneath.

The choice of shows, as it's in beta, is currently very limited with a collection of content from the BBC, Channel 4 and Five. ITV, strangely, is nowhere to be seen at the moment.

Content ranges from classic episodes of The Young Ones and This Life to yesterday's showing of Hollyoaks, giving you a real sense that this isn't just about what you've missed in the last couple of days, but a chance to catch up on telly 10 years ago.

Choose the show you want to watch and you'll be presented with a couple of adverts before the show starts, BBC or not. All the major advertisers are already there with Bupa, Ikea, and a handful of beer companies to name a few and the shows are all peppered with the odd advert. Currently it's not too offensive, but we aren't sure what the plans are for future advertising. As this is a free ad-funded service we would expect it to be low to begin with before ramping up on popular shows.

Once you've got through the adverts, which you can't skip, you get the show you want. Channel 4 shows seem to just let you watch it at the resolution they've set while the BBC content gives you three different settings (low, medium, high). There is a difference between them, but to be fair even the low is good enough to watch full screen for most laptops or monitors.

For shows that are, shall we say, risqué, you get a warning asking you to confirm that you realise you are about to watch post-watershed content. For parents worrying that means bugger all to their little one who'll click on the button anyway, they can password protect this to deter under-18s.

While you are watching your TV show, if you've not launched it full screen, the rest of the site will dim so you can just see the player but to be honest we can't see that making much of difference to your viewing habits.

Verdict

With the promise of a mix of free and paid-for content on SeeSaw the concept of having all your British TV (it only works in the UK at the moment due to licencing laws) in one place is a great idea.

The trouble is that while it's still very early days, you'll still need to go off to get Sky content or to get ITV content making this not the default destination it needs to be successful.

What is likely to make SeeSaw's job even harder is the launch of Project Canvas later in the year, mainly because the BBC Trust has approved involvement in that project over this one.

If Project Canvas not only gets the backing of all the major players in the UK and then manages to launch with set top box offerings like Boxee, it will be hard for SeeSaw to compete, something that isn't its fault, but one that will see them very quickly sidelined.

The concept is sound, the interface works well (it's just not amazing), but unless it can move quickly, SeeSaw will become just another Joost and we all know where that ended up.