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The Sky+ Big Issue - This Week - Series Links - by Callum MacFarlane

Posted on Sunday, 14th July 2002 at 13:41 BST by Callum MacFarlane

If you’ve yet to take the Sky+ plunge, then when you do you’re in for a treat. Many programmes are series linked and save you valuable time and effort remembering to record a show.

During the World Cup for example Sky+ diligently recorded each match at the crack of dawn, remembered any mid morning kick-offs and thankfully still had space left to record lunchtime matches.

For the world cup, I only had to set one reminder on BBC1 and one on ITV.

This was a great use of Series Links and I got to watch (and whiz through) a much greater number of matches than ever I would have seen otherwise, all recorded in glorious uncompressed format, as if I was watching live.

When Series Links are present and can be chosen, life should be a breeze for the user & Sky+.

So why have this article, if all in the Series Link garden is rosy?

Unfortunately, Series Link has a few problems, and here we’ll look at some of the major problems:

1. Most channels do not support or provide series links

2. Series Links are not available on all programmes even on channels that do use Series Links

3. Series Links are not "set once and stay forever" features – eg clashes

4. Series Links don’t cover different series of the same programme

5. Series Links don’t cover different channels

6. Series Links don’t have a log file or remain on the EPG with a reason why they haven’t been set or retained

7. You cannot create a Series Link if one does not exist.

So let’s look at each issue in more detail:

1. Most channels do not support or provide series links

This is the critical problem. I want to set up series links for Countdown on Channel 4 at 4.15pm mon-fri. However Channel 4 do not support Series Links. I want to record by Series Link all episodes of Touched By An Angel on Hallmark channel 9am mon-fri. Again Hallmark channel do not support Series Links.

Now I can see you saying, hang on, when Sky+ gets its own manual record timer, (allegedly in the next software upgrade – this summer) all will be well.

But unfortunately things are not that simple.

Countdown occasionally vary their time for specials like “Champion of Champions”. Touched By An Angel was showing Series 3 at 11am mon-fri but now series 4 is showing at 9am on weekdays. A manual timer wouldn’t have picked this up.

Only a Series Link would catch “all eventualities”

2. Series Links are not available on all programmes even on channels that do use Series Links

This is a little more complex.

UK Gold use series links for many of their programmes. So every Saturday and Sunday morning I wish to set a series link for Doctor Who, not as tricky as using a Sonic Screwdriver you might think. However the good Doctor has mysteriously got no Series Link - if you don’t remember to program it in manually every week it won’t record. A manual record timer option would be hopeless for Doctor Who too, as each full story differs in length and therefore start and finish at different times. The Daleks never did such a good job exterminating Doctor Who from view.

Another example, Regional News on ITV – a series link for this would be invaluable, but again, even though ITV support series links, they are not available on all programmes. A complication for any manual timer options would be that Saturday and Sunday regional news are on at completely different times each week.

Even on Sky’s on channels – Sky News – CBS News show at 12.30am has no series link and neither has Sky One’s Total Recall at 01:05am (these were just the first 2 shows I looked at, at random.)

The examples could go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture (or not as the case may be, if series links aren’t present).

3. Series Links are not set once and stay forever features – eg clashes

For all that Series Links are invaluable – the World Cup at the latter stages of the tournament threw the proverbial spanner in the Sky+ works.

When ITV and BBC showed the same match at the same time, obviously Sky+ could only record one channel at a time (two channel recording is possible, just not allowed yet – more on this subject in a future “The Sky+ Big Issue”)

In my case ITV recorded the footy and the BBC series link failed with the word “failed”– programme clash”. Fair enough you might think, as long as the Series Link is retained for BBC1 future matches – after all, this is the World Cup. But alas, no, Gary Lineker and all were consigned to history as the Series Link had vanished and no future recordings were set up for BBC1 World Cup. Of course Series Links themselves were working just fine for the BBC1 World Cup coverage, it was just that the Sky+ software got confused and made the incorrect decisions when coverage clashed.

4. Series Links don’t cover different series of the same programme

According to Sky there are very strict guidelines on what constitutes a series.
Apparently if you want to record all the episodes of Season 12 of The Simpsons then just select series link. And only episodes from Season 12 will be recorded (assuming the Sky EPG tells you season numbers). Of course as you are only interested in new episodes of the Simpsons - you would reasonably expect that when Season 13 of The Simpsons comes along that you would get this picked up by your existing Series Link, especially if it’s being shown in the same time slot, 18:30 on a Sunday. “Don’t have a cow man”, because you’d be mistaken as Season 13 will be ignored, the user needs to be on the ball and pick the fact there’s a new season in the listing guide.

5. Series Links don’t cover different channels

If you’re a Star Trek buff you have to check your listings carefully, BBC2 entries for Voyager, and The Next Generation, Sky One for The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise. E4 have been showing the original Star Trek series. Sky+ series links do not look outside the channel the programme aired on when you set the link. You need to be aware of what channel shows which show when. E4 by the way don’t support Series links at all.
More annoyingly during the Jubilee celebrations the BBC showed 1 World Cup match on BBC2, again because the series link was set on BBC1 – there was no football recorded that day. Channels that work in conjunction with each other eg BBC1 and BBC2, ITV & ITV2 – will NEVER have working series links that check each others channels.

6. Series Links don’t have a log file entry or remain on the EPG with a reason why they haven’t been set or retained

If it all goes pear shaped and your Series Link has been dropped, perhaps due to a clash with another programme , there currently is no way of knowing what has happened and why. There is no warning that your series link has failed just that the programme recording has failed, and Sky+ doesn’t warn you that it has made a mistake. This is a serious weakness in the system.

7. You cannot create a Series Link if one does not exist.

“The Power is In Your Hands” says the Sky+ infomercial. If only.
The Power is in the hand of the broadcaster’s who at best are ambivalent about Series Links and at worst, positively anti-Sky+.

If there is no mandatory compulsion on the broadcasters to give every programme a Series Link, maintain it and keep its links up to date, then whole system of Series Links falls into disrepute and the potential usefulness for Sky+ is lessened.

So whats the conclusion that we come to?

Until there is a complete re-think on how Series Links work, there will be a major weakness in the Sky+ system.

What can Sky do to rectify this situation?

Sky have been sent this article and have been asked to comment in detail. If they reply, you'll see their answer here.


Join in the discussion at Digital Spy regarding the problems with Series Links in general by clicking the following link - Digital Spy - Sky+ Series Links in Serious Trouble...

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