Review: TV Network Apps

We downloaded CBS's new app last night. 

While they have big plans for integrating their "CBS Connect" functionality in the future, for the moment, it's precisely what you'd expect: the last few episodes of the network's primetime programming, along with a handful of extras. 

As with any other TV network app, it can be useful. Just not, you know, THAT useful. 
In the last year or so, each of the "Big Three" networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) have released branded iPad apps. 

There's no point in doing a separate review for these apps - They're all very, very similar, both in layout and in content offerings. Full episodes of each networks' shows appear about 24 hours after they air, and remain available on the app for about a month. 

Ten years ago, this kind of content availability would have revolutionized everything. Today, apps limited to a single network's content seem to be, almost, unnecessarily difficult. That revolution already took place. 

Obviously, Hulu was the primary agent of change in making TV content available online. Hulu provides content from ABC, NBC and FOX, along with a wide variety of cable networks. 

Hulu doesn't have everything - most notably, it doesn't have CBS. And its primary functionality is similar to the network apps - shows appear a few days after they air, and generally, only a handful of the most recent episodes are available for free. (For the full back catalog, you have to subscribe to Hulu Plus.)

Hulu also doesn't carry HBO, which makes its entire back catalog available to subscribers with the HBO GO app. 

HBO GO is the gold standard by which network apps are judged - it has *all* of HBO's original content - and not just the stuff currently airing, like "True Blood" and "Game of Thrones" and "Boardwalk Empire". HBO GO has every episode of "The Sopranos" and "The Wire".

And now that HBO GO is available on AppleTV (and now that HBO has dropped their blocking of AirPlay), the app is close to perfect. 

(HBO GO review score: 9/10)

Unfortunately, HBO GO is only available to HBO subscribers - making it an expensive proposition for people who just want to be able to watch "Game of Thrones"

HBO doesn't make their content available for individual streaming or download - and while that leads to rampant piracy, it also protects their existing revenue streams. 

In comparison to HBO GO, the utility of the Big Three network apps is somewhat limited. 

They don't have the vast back catalog that HBO GO offers. You can't use your NBC app to watch "Seinfeld" or "Cheers" or "Friends", for instance.

It's generally current network programming - which makes sense, as the programs are generally owned by the studios that produced them, not the networks that aired them. 

So when would you use a network app?

If you are a fan of a particular show, you probably already have it set to record on your DVR. If you happen across a show you hadn't seen before on TV, the app won't let you go back and watch previous seasons to catch up - you only get the 5 most recent episodes, in most cases. 

The only time you'd fire up the network app, generally, is if you are a non-torrenting cord-cutter (or a TV fan without a DVR), if you have cable but forgot to DVR a favorite show, if you'd like to check out an SNL or Fallon sketch that people are talking about, or if you'd like to catch up on a couple of recent episodes that you'd missed, for free, while you're away from home. 

These apps make you watch commercials - and be forewarned, it's going to be the same commercial, over and over and over again.

And AirPlay functionality is limited to iPad mirroring. It's not a major issue, but it would be nice to have an AirPlay button within the app.

But hey - free is free. And while these apps content is often available elsewhere - like in Hulu - there's nothing wrong with having another option. 

"Big Three" Network Apps Review Score: 6/10


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