It’s no secret that all of us at Medialoper love The Office. The program is brilliant on a consistent basis, and NBC has been innovative in extending the show’s reach to the web with blogs, MySpace profiles, and online video. In many respects, The Office is the embodiment of the type of media convergence that we cover here on a regular basis.
There’s just one annoying problem that keeps The Office from being perfect in every way. I almost always have problems watching the video extras on The Office website. At various points in time I’ve tested just about every combination of operating system and web browser known to mankind, and most of them fail.
After hearing rumors that NBC had reworked The Office video page I had hopes that they had finally worked out the bugs. That hope didn’t last long. While the amusing April Fools PSA’s play (they run in Flash), the video highlights and deleted scenes don’t (they are apparently DRM enabled Windows Media files). When accessing the video page I’m now greeted by a message informing me that I need to be using Internet Explorer 5.5 and Windows. Internet Explorer 5.5?! What decade are the NBC web developers living in? Could it be possible that Dwight is the official Office webmaster?
With all the hype surrounding the Office and iTunes, not to mention the conspicuous iPod product placement throughout the series, you’d expect the show’s online extras would play on a Mac – but they don’t.
Yeah, I know the common excuse: Mac’s make up an infinitesimally small segment of the total computer market. I also know that Mac usage is on the upswing — particularly among tech savvy users who are most likely to be early adopters of online programming. I also know that the traditional television viewing experience has been one of consistency. I don’t recall ever receiving an error message telling me a show would only play on a Sony brand TV.
After my experience with The Office videos I did a quick spot check of free video content on the other network websites. The results were surprising. The free clips on ABC, CBS, and Fox all played without a problem on my PowerBook running Firefox. Seriously, if CBS can figure this out, NBC should have no problem.
My search revealed other issues that will become a challenge for the average user as networks begin moving more content online. The four major networks are using at least three different video technologies, and will presumably be using a range of DRM systems to protect downloadable content. Combine that with the fact that each network has an entirely different navigation structure and varying levels of usability. As more programming becomes available, the act of watching shows online will undoubtedly be exponentially more complex than channel surfing with a remote control.