It all started when the hubby and I wanted to watch the pilot for Life On Mars. After realizing that I did not set the TiVo for the pilot (likely due to our excitement over the Supernatural episode that evening), we had no worries, for we could catch it online at our leisure.
After all, we’ve done it many times before. Our outmoded DirectTV receiver earlier in the year kept screwing up during ABC broadcasts and ruining our Lost recordings. We went to ABC.com, selected the full episodes list, clicked on the episode we eagerly wanted to check out and…nothing. No warnings, no errors, no nothing.
Given that both the hubby and I are Information Technology professionals, we did what any normal geeks would do. We sought answers on the Internet. Surely we weren’t the only people having this problem. Sadly, we found we weren’t. After swarming through pages and pages of similar complaints on the ABC.com boards, there were no answers.
I'm Getting To The Bottom Of This
Leave it up to me to dig in for the rest of the evening and go into my technical troubleshooting mode. I built a long and successful career on finding issues with applications as a Software Quality Engineer and I wasn’t about to be deterred. After all, I’m running the most common setup out there. Windows Vista with the Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 browser.
It wasn’t long before I found that the new HD player that ABC.com recently implemented is provided by a company called Move Networks. Their player needed to be downloaded and for some reason that download wasn’t happening. I looked on my list of programs and found I already had a Move media player installed. I guess ABC.com didn’t see that.
No problem, I know what to do in those situations. Delete and reinstall. Using the Windows Vista uninstall programs utility, I removed the media player and went back to ABC.com. That prompted something! I was now given the option to install the player, which I did. I selected the pilot again, the commercial played, it got to the episode and…nothing. This time it was a white swirly thing that wouldn’t stop.
One Google search on Move Networks later and I found they also provide the players for The CW and Fox. I went to those sites to play videos and got the same problem. This was especially troubling for me since Supernatural on The CW is my favorite show and I need my regular Winchester fix. Fox is a non-issue though because their stuff is also on the very much working Hulu.com.
My search then found a set of troubleshooting checklists provided by Move networks and other miscellaneous advice from some techie forums. I chose to use CWTV.com as my test site since ABC’s is too cumbersome and clunky. This is where the real fun began (for a weird techie anyway).
I checked if I had the latest version of Adobe Flash. Yes I did, but I uninstalled the player and reinstalled to be sure. That didn’t help. I then checked if I had the latest version of Java. Nope, so I downloaded the updated version and installed that. Same problem. I cleared all the cache on my IE Browser, irritating me to no end because then I had to retype in all my passwords at the various Web sites I frequent. Same problem. I found cookies were being blocked, so I enabled them through my IE security settings for the ABC, CW and Move Network sites. The blocked cookies message at the bottom went away, but the video still didn’t play.
I found to link to check if I had the proper high speed bandwidth (since video streaming is not dial-up friendly). Yep, I had plenty. I tried the video initialization test on the Move Networks site. That test didn’t play videos either and didn’t give me any reason why. I turned off the pop-up blockers. Nothing. I even got reckless enough to try their completely implausible suggestion of turning off anti-virus. Still no video, so I immediately turned that back on.
I then read a suggestion that my Internet Service Provider could be blocking the transmissions. By this time, I had also tested this on my old Windows XP laptop (where the videos used to work) and my husband’s PC and got the same results. That suggestion actually seemed plausible. So while away one weekend, I tried the sites with a different service provider. Same problem.
So, normally that’s when people give up and go to iTunes or BitTorrent. I gave up on this for a week, until the World Series came on. I went to the ESPN Gamecast, something I’ve always reliably used, and it wouldn’t run. I checked the list of sites running this Move Media player and sure enough, ESPN.com was one of them. Now I was mad.
Now For The Real Techie Stuff
Script: c:\Users\xxxx\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\xxxxxxxx\movenetworks.js
Error: 'window' is undefined
Source: Microsoft JScript runtime error
So What’s The Solution?
I downloaded and installed the Firefox Web browser. I went back to CWTV.com and was prompted to install Adobe Flash and the Move Network Player again. I did so, closed Firefox, restarted and voila, a very pretty video of the Winchester brothers came up on my screen. I went back to ABC.com, and sure enough, I could now finally watch Life On Mars. Of course I’ve fallen several weeks behind, so now watching this show involves some effort catching up. Great job ABC on getting me to keep interest in the show and watch it live!
Sadly, installing Firefox Mozilla seems to be the only solution or finding alternate sites that play the shows with other players like Hulu.com or thewb.com. ABC shows can be found on Veoh.com, but I found that all that does is redirect to ABC.com and try to use the same Move Media player.
Naturally the geek in me is looking for other open source and library fixes (short of programming them myself), but so far the well has run dry. My hubby, always the technical optimist, has hopes that the new Internet Explorer 8 browser will fix some of the Java discrepancies, but for now, many Internet Explorer users are stuck.
It’s The Architecture, Stupid
Welcome to the age of open source, where thanks to a flashy interface and savvy marketing even the flakiest architecture will excite four networks into making the bonehead decision. I’ve seen this happen way too often in the tech world. A developer comes up with something cool while messing around with all the neat stuff open source can do, bypassing Microsoft in the process since it’s so cumbersome. A few marketing geniuses see the results and get stars in their eyes (okay dollar signs), thus prompting them to put together the presentation that will sell ice to the Eskimos.
Not a lot of sound software architecture went into this product and usually executives when making important technology decisions with third party providers often don’t ask questions like, "Will it run in every browser or on every operating system?" After a few years in the trenches at America Online, we learned many of these lessons the hard way when experimenting with the Gecko browser. One script isn’t meant for all browsers. Move Networks needs to run a browser check when their player is accessed and then run the appropriate script for the proper browser.
The fact that none of these television networks seem to be forcing this fix makes me assume that their strategy for online streaming is to merely say they have it. Functionality doesn’t seem to be a priority. This just proves to be another case in which some big media companies are reluctant to embrace the future and are being pulled into it kicking and screaming.
In the meantime, I’ll catch Life On Mars on DVD and bypass ABC altogether. Thank heavens NBC and Fox went with Hulu. I’m off to watch their shows online now.