As more and more viewers turn to “second screens” like tablets to catch the first viewings of their favorite shows, the big broadcasters have quickly cottoned on that having dedicated, on demand video apps for tablets is a must. However, not all on demand video apps are created equal. That’s why I’ve decided to test the most-downloaded UK on demand video apps for iPad and rank them best to worst.
Make no mistake about it, the King of the Jungle when it comes to the best UK on demand video app is BBC’s iPlayer. It’s pretty much got everything you could want from an on demand app. Let’s start with the layout: the home screen is one of the easiest to navigate out of all the on demand apps. Users can choose between Featured, Most Popular, and On Now shows. Shows and episodes are displayed in a large grid format that uses a thumbnail from that current episode, so you can quickly identify new content from your favorites shows. The ability to add a show to favorites so you can be automatically notified when new content is available is also great.
The app goes so much further than just displaying recent content, however. It has excellent discoverability features with powerful search and easy-to-navigate categories. The built-in TV guide is also a nice feature. Below each specific show you’re also presented with a “You May Also Like” selection of similar shows.
The BBC iPlayer app also includes the ability to listen to BBC radio stations live or after programs have aired. But perhaps the best feature of all is the ability to download all the shows to your iPad for offline viewing. Shows can be downloaded in either SD or HD and remain on your iPad for 30 days--even if they’ve been removed from iPlayer halfway through. The ability to download shows for later viewing is also great for international travelers as you can access the downloaded content even when outside of the UK.
Oh, and can you say AirPlay and Chromecast support? Yep. This app rocks.
After BBC’s iPlayer everything else drops into a lower category. BBC’s iPlayer app is just too slick and too feature-full to have an on-par competitor. However, the leader of the on demand apps in the next level down is clearly 4oD.
4oD’s app allows you to watch Channel 4, E4 and More4 shows and movies on your iPad. Its interface isn’t as refined or intuitive as iPlayer’s, but it offers a number of compelling features. One nice thing that is really great about the app is that when you tap on a show you not only see that episode that is available but an entire list of all the episodes from every season of that show. Another really nice feature is the rich discoverability tools 4oD have built in. You have your standard search and categories, but the 4oD Recommendations sections and the “Collections” section, which features curated lists of content, is a nice plus.
What makes this app a cut above the rest, however, if its ability--like iPlayer-- to allow the user to download shows for offline and out of the country viewing for up to 30 days. Oh, and did I mention the app offers free “boxed sets” of classic Channel 4 shows? Awesome. Plus there’s AirPlay support.
ITV Player isn’t a bad app, just compared to the two above, it’s nothing that great. The main problem I have with it is the interface is a bit dated and looks a bit bubbly. ITV haven’t embraced the look and feel of iOS 7.
Another thing that keeps ITV Player from being great is all the ads that are shoved at you. Now don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t always expect our content for free, but for an ad-supported app I wish it had more features built-in. While you can view most shows for up to 30 days after they air on ITV, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4, there’s no ability to download those shows, which means offline viewing and out of the country viewing isn’t possible.
Content discoverability could also be better. ITV Player has your basic search and a nice A to Z guide of shows, but there’s no curated lists or “most popular” sections of the app to browse to find content. Again, for an app that throws ads at you, I wish it had some more features to make the trade off less painful.
For an extra £3.99 a month you can pay for a subscription to get rid of the ads and also view live streams of ITV3 and ITV4 (in addition to ITV and ITV2, which the regular app offers), but given the lack of features in this app it’s hard to justify the cost.
Okay, I have a feeling I’m going to need to explain why I’ve placed Sky Go so low in the rankings. The app itself is brilliant from a content and design perspective. With it users get access to over 800 movies, hundreds of entertainment programmes, sports highlights, and up to 54 live TV channels.
The search feature is top-notch, allowing you to not only search by title or event name, but by actor--so you can see all the movies Sky Go offers that stars, for example, Angelina Jolie. The On Now section of the app has an incredibly easy to navigate channel guide, the Catch Up section lets you quickly view content by channels, and the TV Box Sets section is brilliant because it allows you to binge watch your favorite shows.
So what’s not to love about this app? Well, you need a Sky subscription to view its content. And even if you have a Sky subscription you still need to pay extra for a Sky Go Extra pass to get more advanced app features, like downloading content for viewing offline.
I understand that Sky doesn’t want to give this great app away for free, but it would be nice if the company did offer a subscription service for the app only, instead of requiring a regular at-home Sky subscription too. Something tells me that if they did that a lot more cord cutters would be signing up for this service.
Ah, Demand 5. How you need to improve. This app comes in last because it’s fairly bare-bones and I’ve constantly experienced a number of buffering issues with it. Not to mention the ads seem to take forever to load, which takes away from the content.
Demand 5 allows you to search for shows via the Featured, Recent, and Shows categories, but there’s nothing special about its layout and nothing that shows the channel went the extra steps to give the viewer a good user experience. What’s even more depressing is that many of its shows are only available for 7 days--and there’s no way to download shows for offline viewing.
The app itself is a bit buggy and their explicit, yet vague, statement of “We are not permitted to enable Airplay” pretty much underlines why this app is so underwhelming.