I noticed recently that 4oD has opened up some of the Channel 4 archive as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations. So oft remembered but never repeated dramas along with old series of Grand Designs are available to download and enjoy for free.
For the discerning AiB reader who is less glued to the interweb, 4oD is Channel 4’s on-demand service that allows you to download C4, E4, Film4, AnythingElseEndingIn4 TV shows to your PC (got to be Windows XP or Vista) and watch at your leisure.
In general, you’ve 30 days to watch what you’ve downloaded, and 48 hours to complete watching programmes once you start watching them for the first time.
Technically, 4oD uses the same Kontiki peer-to-peer (P2P) software as BBC's iPlayer, meaning that while you have a show downloaded your PC may be used to send parts of it to other users downloading the same programme. Spreads out the bandwidth across the 4oD users and reduces the load on Channel 4’s servers ... but does have some implications if your ISP limits the uploads you make in a month.
4oD is also available as a catch-up service on Virgin Media, BT Vision and Tiscali IPTV platforms.
Knowing that he was dying from pancreatic cancer, Dennis Potter wrote two four-part dramas, asking that they be co-produced by BBC and Channel 4. In 1996, nearly two years after his death, Karaoke and Cold Lazarus were aired.
Karaoke told the tale of a dying writer, Daniel Feeld, and was as odd as anything Potter had previously written despite its touching parallels with Potter’s final weeks. In contrast, Cold Lazarus was quite breathtaking in its vision of the future, where Feeld’s cryogenically preserved head is leaking out its four hundred year old memories. Few who watched it will forget the RONs (Reality or Nothing) - a luddite resistance movement who want to destroy the virtual reality in which society now exists and go back to physical idealism.
A consequence of the unique co-production (both dramas aired on both channels, shown first on a Sunday night on one, and repeated the following evening on the other) is that unclear rights issues have prevented the series being released on DVD or repeated on TV. While not the faint-hearted, it’s a rare opportunity to watch them for free on 4oD. (The screenplay is still available on Amazon too.)
Being last broadcast in 1996, it probably shouldn’t surprise me that there are practically no still images from either drama available on line. Otherwise, this article might be better illustrated!
While we’re on the subject of on-demand TV, it’s also been announced that iPlayer (BBC’s on-demand catch-up service) will be introducing a streamed version (using Adobe Flash) as part of the official consumer launch of iPlayer at Christmas, allowing Mac and Linux users access to iPlayer’s catalogue of shows for the first time.
Nothing to stop PC users streaming either ... though I wonder if the streamed content will be poorer quality than the download service due to bandwidth and time constraints. Whereas the download service allows for convenient viewing offline on a train or plane, streaming has the downside of having to be online to watch the content (unless there’s some clever caching system).
It’s not yet clear whether streaming is an interim step before ultimately introducing the full-download service across multiple operating systems when the cross-platform DRM issues are sorted out, or whether this will be as good as it gets for the non-Windows community. The Guardian reports:
Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of future media and technology, said that there was a “cost per person reach” factor that meant that it was “too early to make the call” on when to develop a download service.
And iPlayer’s streaming service will also be available for free at The Cloud’s wifi hotspots. Ashley Highfield described the partnership with The Cloud as
“... furthering the BBC's commitment to make its content as widely available as possible to our audiences wherever they are.”
(Acknowledgement: Photo of Feeld's preserved head from Muli Koppel's Flickr account.)