You’d be shocked if you turned on the TV to find that some major broadcast channels weren’t available on your brand of television. But when it comes to smart TV apps, such as ITV Hub and All 4, that’s exactly what’s happening.
I expect a lot from my smart TV. I want to be able to watch the live cricket, flick over to Mad Men or Happy Valley in the Netflix app, and then perhaps head to All 4 (the Channel 4 catch-up app) to watch the episodes of Catastrophe that I’ve missed, all without ever leaving my sofa.
And most people want much the same. In a recent survey of more than 4,000 members, two thirds of smart TV owners said the availability of catch-up and on-demand apps was important when buying their TV.
So it’s no surprise that customers are left dumb-founded when these are missing from their brand-new smart TV.
The murky world of missing apps
Despite Samsung becoming the first manufacturer to offer the full complement of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 catch-up apps in 2013, its 2015 and 2016 smart TVs were all missing these for several months when they were first available to buy.
At the time of writing, All 4 still hadn’t been released on its 2016 smart TVs – more than nine months after they were released.
‘The Samsung Smart TV platform is used by content providers to make their apps available to consumers, and many factors can affect the speed in which this happens. Samsung is committed to working with content providers to make apps available as quickly as possible, whilst providing the best offering and experience.’
But waiting weeks or even months for the apps to appear isn’t the only issue – some will never be available on certain brands of TV. For example, LG, Panasonic and Sony smart TVs bought between 2011 and 2014 won’t ever have the ITV Hub nor All 4 apps.
And with TV manufacturers and retailers warning that the availability of third-party apps is subject to change, you could even discover that some become defunct a few years down the line.
So what are smart TV manufacturers doing to ensure these key apps are available on their new models?
Well, most Panasonic and LG smart TVs now incorporate Freeview Play in their smart TV platforms. This handy system integrates catch-up TV into the electronic programme guide, allowing LG and Panasonic to offer all the key services.
Smaller brands Hisense, JVC and Toshiba all recently announced they will be also integrating Freeview Play into some of their TVs, while Sony has incorporated YouView, a similar system offering the main catch-up apps, in its smart TVs since 2015.
Not only do Freeview Play and YouView allow TV brands to offer BBC iPlayer, the ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5, the apps are on the TVs as soon as they become available, so you won’t be waiting weeks or months for them to appear.
This means that Samsung – which has yet to make any clear commitment to include either Freeview Play or YouView in its smart TVs – has gone from being the only major brand able to offer all the main catch-up apps to being the only one not able to offer them from when the TVs first become available to buy.
As Freeview Play and YouView are relatively young, we’re yet to see whether these systems will lose support for catch-up TV services.
But Freeview did tell us that it had considered this when designing the system:
‘While we cannot absolutely guarantee that all our content partner’s apps and services will be present for the life of the device, we have taken steps to ensure that Freeview Play offers the greatest possible chance of achieving this by mandating the very latest connected TV technology and enforcing common standards.’
But, to me, the fact that most apps are now available on your brand-new TV from the start is definitely an improvement.
Is your smart TV missing key catch-up and on-demand apps? Or was it when you first bought it?