The more than I learn about the free TV streaming services that exist abroad, the more that I wish I could expatriate myself from the United States. Okay, maybe that is a little bit of an extreme act just to be able to watch tons of high-quality free TV programs and take advantage of the great free TV streaming services that are available in countries like Sweden.
Then again, as any Swede knows well, there are countless other reasons why an American might tend to think that Sweden looks very alluring, free TV streaming services aside … You’re telling me that if I were to become a Swedish citizen, I could have access to amazing, free TV streaming sites like SVT Play, free health care, free college education (all the way through a Ph.D.!), and free daycare services for my kids? Where do I sign up?
Okay, okay, I know that these things are not technically “free,” in the truest sense of the word – Swedish citizens are typically taxed roughly 62% of their personal income, in addition to paying a fairly steep 25% consumption tax – but, hey, if these taxes end up meaning that I have to pay less to lead a comfortable and healthy life, I am all for it.
So, all of that being said, perhaps it is not entirely accurate to call SVT Play a free TV streaming site so much as it is to say that SVT is a privilege afforded to all Swedes as a result of what is paid in income tax. If you live in Sweden and you are not taking advantage of SVT Play at least once in a while, well, you might as well be throwing money away! That being said, one can’t help but wonder if a free, government-run, quasi-access TV network’s streaming service is truly one of the best free TV Streaming sites available. Well, by the end of this review, this is what we will have figured out, once and for all.
SVT Play is a streaming site and app that has adopted the increasingly popular “catchup” model of free TV streaming. This differs from the typical way of going about content availability that you would see most frequently on, say, Netflix, where a series or movie is made available for a prearranged, contractually mandated amount of time (usually at least 1 year).
Catchup TV streaming services like SVT Play are designed with the regular, Over The Top cable TV viewer in mind. As the name implies, if you happened to miss the airing of your favorite TV shows, you can catchup with SVT Play. The duration of time during which these broadcast programs will remain available varies from service to service, but SVT Play makes content available for 30 days after airing (which is fairly typical of catchup streaming sites like this one). After that 30 days, if you haven’t caught up by then, well, unfortunately, you are out of luck (unless you can find it on another streaming service elsewhere).
Although most of what is available on SVT Play take the form of episodes from TV series, there is a wide range of content that goes far beyond simply sitcoms and drama series. If it has aired on one of SVT’s cable channels within the last 30 days, well, you will be able to find and stream it on SVT Play. This results in plenty of movies, documentaries, news programs, standup comedy specials, broadcasted events and ceremonies, and even (previously) live concerts. As far as free TV streaming sites go, SVT Play certainly has one of the most consistently impressive lineups … but that is because, lucky for all of you TV lovers in Sweden, SVT has a history of providing engaging, thoughtful, and downright good entertainment.
Although SVT Play as we know it today was not launched until December of 2006, SVT can trace its roots back to the 1920s. SVT’s origins begin with radio, when the Swedish government decided to adopt a media structure that was very similar to that of the British Broadcasting Company. In other words, radio was to be a monopoly that was funded through licensing fees and structured as a limited company. It was then known as Radiotjänst, or “Radio Service Ltd.”
Once the technology became affordable enough, this public/private media entity began running test transmissions on TV. The very first television transmission occurred on October 29, 1954, from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Still, it was not until 3 years later that regularly scheduled TV programs were to air in Sweden, in 1957. Meanwhile, at the same time, Sveriges Radio (SR) was undergoing seismic shifts in ownership, giving both the State and the press 40% of the company shares; the remaining 20% would belong to the company itself (it is worth noting here, I think, that in 1967 the State increased their own share to 60%).
And, with that restructuring and advance in tech, Sveriges Television, or SVT, was born. And from there, a steady pace of growth and expansion was to be put into motion. SVT expanded the number of channels it offered, which, naturally, resulted in a broader range of regular programming. By the middle of the 1960s, SVT had gone from primarily a newscaster to a multi-channel media monopoly with everything from feel good sitcoms to stoic dramas.
Today, SVT Play makes it so that you can watch any and everything aired on SVT no matter when or where you happen to be (so long as you are in Sweden and it is within 30 days of broadcast). What a long way we have come.
I appreciate SVT Play’s no-nonsense approach to site design. It is very minimalistic and barebones, which are attributes that I tend to appreciate in any streaming site. One thing that I have noticed about free TV streaming sites (and premium ones too) is the fact that they tend to be too cluttered, like they are trying to do too much or cram way too much content onto every page. SVT Play, thankfully, understands the value of the adage ‘less is more.’
Not only is SVT nicely paced and spaced in its layout, but it also embraces an underrated and underdiscussed element to good site design – one that I am going to refer to as alternation. You might also call it patterning. What I mean is that, as you scroll down the SVT Play home page, you start to notice a pattern of alternating thumbnail sizes. One category presents content with smaller thumbnails, the next with longer ones. The page then volleys back and forth in this nature. I think that, in addition to providing a sense of stylistic organization, it also tricks the eye into believing that it is taking in a dynamic user experience, even though it is just a matter of alternating the dimensions of rectangles.
Click into a TV show or movie in order to discover a continuation of great site design. The media player is large and nearly spans the entire page in width. The background is black, resulting in a sort of cinematic effect. and below the media player, you will find a side-scrolling list of similar shows to stream – everything that I could ask for from a TV streaming site, at least from a design perspective … everything is right where I want it to be.
Content and Features
So, this is one area in which SVT Play is somewhat lacking. Not in terms of content, but features. No, SVT Play is doing very well on the content front, claiming to have over 2,000 titles to stream for free at any given time. You would be hard pressed to run out of great entertainment on SVT Play.
There are not many user features, though. I can browse by channel, by category, and by genre. That is about all that I am able to do on SVT Play. I would have liked to have seen some customizable features – such as the ability to add shows to a list, rate them, mark them as “watch later,” or maybe leave comments. Outside of viewing tons of great content, there is not a whole lot that you can do on SVT Play.
Mobile and Desktop Experience
Yes, SVT Play is available on all mobile devices. There are great iOS and Android apps available, both of which are every bit as clean, smooth, and user-friendly as the desktop site.