Demand Five – another case of online discrimination 

22 July 2008 tbs.pm/924

Once again, a sizeable proportion of online users are being discriminated against by on-demand programme providers: this time by Five’s TV-on-demand service Demand Five. If they were visually impaired, for example, this discrimination would probably be illegal – but in this case a great many more people are affected.

On the Demand Five sub-site, in the Accessibility section, the company states: “Five.tv and Demand Five are committed to making output as accessible as possible to all users…”

Yet this is patently not the case. Demand Five doesn’t support Macintosh users – a sizeable and growing proportion of the on-line community.

The fact is, there are probably four times as many UK Macintosh users on the web as there are visually impaired internet users in the UK. Yet Demand Five wants to be “as accessible as possible” to the latter while neglecting the former, much larger group.

Current statistics suggest that 1 in 60 UK residents are blind or visually impaired. Research further indicates that over 50 per cent of visually impaired people regard the Internet as an important communication tool, so we can assume that 500,000 visually impaired people in the UK will be potentially interested in viewing Demand Five’s output. This is inflating the figure by an unknown amount, because we do not know that every visually impaired person who thinks the Net is important actually has access.

By contrast, at the turn of this year, Macintosh-based users topped 8% of all web users in statistics (a number that may underestimate Macintosh usage). Now, 61% (end 2007) of households in the UK have internet access, and we can assume that they use the web. That suggests that three million Mac users in the UK might be interested in Demand Five’s content, or four times the number of potential visually impaired customers. But one group is supported, the other is not. (It’s actually more complex than that: Macintosh computers, due to their ease of use, will no doubt be the preference of at least some impaired users, so the groups overlap.)

This sounds like a case of discrimination to me.

Other broadcasters support Macintosh users by offering a Flash player as an alternative option – although it does not offer as good quality, at least you can watch all the content.

In addition there is an Open Source DRM project, now quite advanced, that Five could be supporting to help develop a platform-agnostic downloadable system that would work on Windows, Macintosh, Linux and more, and would cost nothing in licensing or suffer the challenges of proprietary solutions.

Will Five consider supporting Macintosh users in the future?

Readers will recall that there was an outcry when the BBC played this trick, supporting only Windows users – they remedied that to a degree with the Flash player and they are apparently supporting the open source DRM project. Couldn’t Five do the same?

Quite likely there won’t be the outcry against Five that there was against the BBC – it’s not a public service broadcaster paid for by everyone with a television*, and presumably relatively few people want to watch the programmes – but that’s still no reason to exclude a significant, and growing, proportion of the online audience.

* Now, that’s interesting… demand Five has a question in its FAQ section:

Do I need a TV licence to watch Demand Five programmes on my computer?

The answer given is, “No, you do not need a TV licence to watch programmes on Demand Five as long as you do not have a TV in your home.” Is that actually true? The TV Licensing site says, “You need a TV Licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, digital box, DVD or video recorder, PC, laptop or mobile phone to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV.” I suppose the key phrase here is, “as they are being shown on TV”.