TVU Broadcaster: Great software, weak service

TVU networks logoAfter spending years watching oddball little networks and local stations over free-to-air satellite, I got to thinking: Why don’t *I* create a TV station? (And judging by the number of emails I get on this topic, I’d say it’s not just me.)

Putting a 24-hour TV station on satellite is pretty darned expensive. The last extremely rough estimate I’d heard for a dedicated Ku-band slot was about $10,000 a month. (If you’ve got a better figure, please leave a comment.) And that doesn’t account for all of the equipment you’d need to prepare your content and deliver it on a scheduled basis.

But now we all live in the age of fast internet connections, and an internet-based TV station is a lot cheaper to broadcast. For a good example try the Livestream Broadcaster device, a darling of the 2012 NAB Show. Or you can do what I did, start a channel using TVU Networks’ Broadcaster software.

There are a lot of really good things about TVU Broadcaster:

  • It’s free for noncommercial use. You’re welcome to set up the software and broadcast a channel, and all it takes is your time and bandwidth.
  • It includes a scheduler. It doesn’t have a lot of features, but it really works, and it’s included. The scheduler would be an extra paid (and full-featured) component of any other system.
  • There’s no limit on viewers. With most streaming systems, you have to multiply the number of viewers times your stream rate to figure the amount of bandwidth you need to pay for. TVU is based on a peer-to-peer system, so you don’t have to worry about any of that.
  • TVU provides a dedicated player for iOS and Android. So your channel will be available on a lot of smartphones.
  • There’s enough documentation to get you started. Good stuff such as format type, recommended parameters, and even a test file to broadcast.
  • It has a built-in audience. Anyone with the TVU Player will see your channel in a list with hundreds of others as they look for fun content for viewing.

But there are also a lot of not-great things about TVU:

  • There’s no support. Well, there’s supposed to be support, but I’ve never seen it. The most recent version of Broadcaster was released in 2008, and TVU’s forums tell a sad story of years’ worth of unanswered questions.
  • The scheduler is very rudimentary. It lets you stack your program files, then plays them in that order, and that’s it. There’s no good way to swap a new file in the middle, except to add it to the stack, then move it one position at a time until it’s in the right place, then delete the old file.
  • Relying on peer-to-peer is a turnoff for some viewers. They worry about adding a special plug-in that might use their upstream bandwidth without their noticing. I understand the hesitation there.
  • The player doesn’t work on all platforms. It doesn’t work on Google Chrome in Windows except on TVU’s official Watch TV page. I still don’t know how to embed a player on my site so it’ll work in Chrome, or in Macintosh Safari for that matter. (See: support.)
  • There’s no way for a broadcaster to edit a channel name or description after launching it. Which is why my channel still has “test” in its name and a completely inaccurate description.
  • The TVU channel list is a zoo. There are ways to filter by language and category, but it can be really hard to pick through hundreds of choices to find something you want to watch.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I visited the TVU booth at the NAB Show in April. A nice woman there listened to my questions and assured me that TVU was continuing to support Broadcaster, and that I should consider a Pro account. I said that I’d be happy to invest in a Pro account if TVU would demonstrate that it truly offered active support. We emailed each other a few times in the following weeks, but that correspondence did not dissuade me that TVU had not turned its back on Broadcaster.

If you try to go straight to the TVU Networks home page, you’re greeted with a popup-style window that asks, “Looking for TVUPack?” with the options “Yes, take me to” and “No, take me to”. That says it all. TVU Broadcaster is a surprisingly good tool, but all of its signs point to a dead end.

Update: I guess I was right. TVU’s site now shows that “TVU Networks shut down service to the TVU Player on February 25,2013.” Sure glad I didn’t buy the Pro account.