You often hear that we live in a digital non-linear TV world. That’s not actually true. We very much live in a linear television world with lots of people watching television live. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story.
But I digress.
It’s certainly true that digital streaming is now a key part of television. iPlayer, Netflix, ITV Hub, Amazon Prime and so on. Binge watching The Crown or catching up on last night’s Broadchurch – it’s all part of the many ways we watch TV.
Sky is part of that, and it offers Sky Go. Available as either an app or via a PC browser, it’s theoretically the equivalent of the aforementioned platforms. Except it’s much worse, and seemingly deliberately so.
With a regular Sky account you get two logins for Sky Go, which seems generous. More specifically, it means two devices. So your phone and your laptop perhaps. But not your tablet, or your partners’ or kids’ tablets as well. Sky will sell you Sky Go Extra for £5 a month. That gives you four devices and adds in offline downloads – saving mobile data and useful for long car, train or plane journeys. But that’s a facility most of the others offer free.
Sky doesn’t want to make it free because they know your kids would be just as happy streaming on an old iPad as watching a TV in another room, and they make very good money selling families in particular extra boxes on the same subscription for another £10-12 a month. Those families would quickly cancel multiroom and make their kids put up with a tablet if they were able to.
But it means that the Sky Go experience for most users is, at best, sub-optimal. On a long train journey over the weekend, I could binge watch Netflix, Amazon, ITV, C4 or iPlayer programmes should I have chosen to – downloading them first before travelling. But not Sky – at least not without streaming via mobile data, which was impossible in some locations, or paying them even more money (£5 versus £7.50 for an entire Netflix subscription!).
Those issues are nothing to trying to watch Sky Go on a PC.
The most popular desktop browser is Chrome.
Sky Go doesn’t work with Chrome.
The second most popular desktop browser is Firefox.
Sky Go doesn’t work with Firefox.
Microsoft’s current browser, shipped with Windows 10, is Edge.
Sky Go doesn’t work with Edge.
It doesn’t work with Opera either.
It only seems to work with Internet Explorer, and perhaps Safari on Macs. The final version of Internet Explorer was released in 2013. There won’t be another version. While Internet Explorer did also ship with Windows 10, Microsoft is very keen to move IE users over to Edge. Edge was the default browser in the version of the OS that Microsoft offered free, to hundreds of millions of users.
The reason for Sky Go only works with positively ancient web browsing technology and doesn’t work with any of the latest browsers, is because it also relies on Microsoft SilverLight. SilverLight is another, now deprecated piece of software that delivers video streams in an encrypted fashion.
Microsoft announced the end of life of SilverLight back in 2012. It’s now 2017, and as is made clear above Microsoft’s own current browser, Edge, does not work with SilverLight.
So why is Sky still using it?
I can only think that it’s something to do with how it limits you outputting your video. You see while most of the other video service providers are more than happy for you to watch their wares on your big screen using either a cable (e.g. an HDMI lead), or something like Chromecast, Sky really doesn’t want you to do that.
They don’t build Chromecast into their Sky Go app. They restrict you outputting the signal via a digital output like HDMI (I don’t believe they can restrict an analogue output like a VGA connection, but VGA connections are found in fewer home computers these days, and require a second cable to output the sound).
Again, this comes back to Sky not wanting using to be able to output to a big screen. When I’m away visiting my parents, Sky allows us to crowd around my laptop screen to view a match, but doesn’t allow me to output it to their TV set.
It’s positively user-unfriendly. And I say this as someone who spends a lot of money on my monthly subscription with Sky.
While I understand it’s part of their business plan, it’s notable that BT Sport, for example, is very happy for you to, say, Chromecast a game to another TV set somewhere.
Sky says, “Believe in Better.”
Yet it offers the single worst streaming experience of any major UK broadcaster.
[Update: December 2017]
Thanks to Steve Morgan for letting me know that as long as you plug an HDMI cable between your laptop and your TV before you launch Sky Go in Internet Explorer, it should work. In testing, I successfully watched Sky Sports on a TV.
A ludicrously backward workaround, but it works.