HBO's One Attempt At A Standalone Digital Service Sucks

from the surprise-surprise dept

In my recent post about the fragmentation of online television, there were a few aspects and details I left out because they seemed worthy of a separate, closer look. One is the oft-forgotten fact that HBO does indeed offer one lonely digital-only subscription service... to customers in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. That program was announced last year and seemed like a promising step for the notoriously cable-dedicated HBO—but the customer feedback is coming in, and the results are not encouraging:

A list of complaints include HD content is (was?) only available on Samsung Smart TVs, meaning you were only given SD quality when streaming through your computer or any other device. Same goes for surround sound and 5.1, which are only available through the Samsung TV app. Other complaints I've heard includes buffering problems with the Widevine plugin (at standard definition), and lack of Apple Airplay support. The product is available as iOS and Android apps, but Xbox and Playstation apps are still said to be under development.

The online UI is nice to look at but was poorly designed; initially HBO only allowed you to search for TV shows by alphabetical letter. The results were underwhelming and exaggerated how little content HBO was offering.

...

It should be noted that you're not given access to the full back catalogue, several classics are not available such as Deadwood and Oz, which apparently have some copyright restrictions.

Some might claim it's still a good deal at €9.95/month, considering most people can't access any of these shows legally without a full cable package. Of course, Netflix only costs €7.99/month in the region, and has a larger selection, which makes the price a little less impressive. Then there's the fact that HBO initially promised much, much more:

  • Every episode of all HBO series available online
  • All new episodes available within 24 hours of the US premiere, with local subtitles (dubbing is rare in the Nordics, foreign TV shows and movies are usually subtitled in the local language)
  • Works on practically all devices: smartphones, tablets (Android, iOS), computers (Windows, Linux, Mac), video game consoles (PS3, Xbox), Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, and Sonera IPTV service
  • Full HD 1080p picture quality
  • Surround sound

Compare that to the list of complaints, and you realize HBO isn't doing a great job of living up to the expectations it created. Then there's the other truly insane catch: customers are locked into a 12-month contract, after which they must give 3-month notice for cancellation. Yeah. Moreover, the terms stated that simply logging into the service once waives your ability to cancel it because you're not satisfied (despite using the service being the only way to know if you are satisfied). After facing significant criticism for this move, HBO backtracked and offered subscribers the chance to use the service until the end of this month without a longer commitment—but only those subscribers who also signed up for the HBO Nordic newsletter. Classy.

It's no real surprise that HBO's first attempt at a standalone online offering is a disaster. HBO approaches the internet with extreme trepidation, but revolution requires gusto. Digital distribution—especially when it comes to competing with piracy—is a go big or go home endeavor. Or... go halfway, and watch your customers go elsewhere.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:24am

    Recipe to do it right in the digital world:

    1- Copy TPB source code
    2- Modify it to allow only admin uploads
    3- Put a lot of content online
    4- Charge a small fee and use few non-intrusive advertisements (along with content adverts) to keep service running
    5- watch your users fall in love with you while even helping you keep bnadwidth costs low
    6- Profit

    Of course TPB does all that without charging but I'm sure that users wouldn't mind throwing some bucks for an improved design and functionalities that any moron can add these days.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      frosty840, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:32am

      Re:

      Indeed.

      There are still many of us out there that simply cannot use streaming video services, full stop. If I'm going to get video over my internet, it had better give me the ability to download all of it before I start watching, or I'm going to end up an extremely disgruntled customer.

       

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        zegota (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:43am

        Re: Re:

        I would wager the number of people who can stream but not download vastly outnumber the people who can download but not stream.

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Why would you be able to stream and not download?

           

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          •  
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            Forest_GS (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 10:15am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            A full hard drive and not enough money to buy a $80 2TB platter hard drive.

             

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              ltlw0lf (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 1:17pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              A full hard drive and not enough money to buy a $80 2TB platter hard drive.

              You don't need a 2TB drive to buffer a movie. I'd be really surprised it you needed more than 8GB for a DVD or 36GB for an HD (BLU-RAY). If your effort is to download and store, yes, but if your hard drive is so full that you can't buffer 8GB/36GB, then your computer must be running really, really slow.

               

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              •  
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                Forest_GS (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 6:48pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                John was asking why someone wouldn't be able to download...

                 

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                  ltlw0lf (profile), Jan 18th, 2013 @ 6:20am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  John was asking why someone wouldn't be able to download...

                  Yup. I agree with John. Streaming is just downloading very slowly (hopefully buffering is on,) displaying the results, and then deleting the results after being displayed. There is no difference between streaming and downloading, so why would you be able to stream and not download?

                  You gave a good reason, a full hard drive, but I was pointing out that the reason you gave might be solved by cleaning up your hard drive instead of getting a bigger drive, since it is likely causing more problems for you then being able to download a movie. Full hard drives lead to severe fragmentation and thrashing of the swap-file, which in turn lead to a slower machine.

                   

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      zegota (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:42am

      Please

      If you think The Pirate Bay is more user friendly than HBO Go or Netflix, you're crazy. Not to mention the fact that The Pirate Bay offers downloads, not streams. Many people use things like Roku boxes, which don't have a dedicated hard drive to store media.

      The fact of the matter is that HBO Go fits all those promises they made. The problem is that the thing they actually ended up offering is not HBO Go, which is not available without a cable subscription.

       

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        Ninja (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:59am

        Re: Please

        No, no, you got me wrong. That was a basic tutorial. They could easily improve the interface (TPB design and functionality is crap if u think about it). My bad. But it delivers what you need with very little effort.

         

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        Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 10:25am

        Re: Please

        If you think The Pirate Bay is more user friendly than HBO Go or Netflix, you're crazy.

        You're making the mistake that there are only one or two features that make A more user friendly than B.

        I absolutely agree that the user interface of TPB is crap. On that, Netflix would win (although judging from the article, HBO Go might be worse than TPB).

        On availability of content, TPB wins dramatically.

        Options - to me, downloading the content is far more important, so TPB wins out in my preference. I don't dispute that streaming is important for some - but what good is a streaming option if you can't stream what you want to watch? Likewise, last I looked at Netflix, there were only two levels of size/quality/bitrate for most Netflix stuff (and only one for the rest) - yet for much content on TPB, you can get something to play on a phone to full blu-ray quality and every step in between.

        Price? Dead obvious - TPB.

        All this shows is that there is a huge oppurtunity being missed. Where is the service that offers both download and streaming, with many quality levels, with a simple to understand UI, and that has every bit of content I could ever want? **I would gladly pay for such a service.** Hell, make it like cable for all I care - offer a basic service with access to "standard" content, and let me add on the Science/Learning package, have the Sports option, the Movie package - whatever. But if you want me to stop being a pirate, goddammit let me pay you for your stuff in a way that makes sense.

         

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        JEDIDIAH, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

        Re: Please

        > Many people use things like Roku boxes, which don't have a dedicated hard drive to store media.

        Roku boxes come with a developer community or "ecosystem". Part of that "ecosystem" is something called Plex which nicely handles this problem.

        AppleTV boxes similarly have iTunes. Sony Regza devices have DLNA with other streamer boxes can access Windows shared files directly.

        Media sharing of your TPB downloads, DVD rips, and grandma's vacation videos are not such a problem.

         

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      Rikuo (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:47am

      Re:

      Hear here. In 2012, I must have donated about 200 total to an anime community forum I'm a member of, simply because what I get out of them is so vastly superior and easy to get. They earned my money, every cent of it (and in case trolls are about to jump in, claiming they're profiting: no, donations covered bandwidth costs, nothing more).
      As an aside, one thing I would just love to buy would be pre-filled hard drives: I'd love it if I could go on to a computer electronics retailer, pick say a 2TB hard drive and be able to pick out what shows/movies/games/music it comes pre-filled with (in the formats I want, with no DRM), for a bit extra. Would save me a TON of download time, and I'd consider it well worth the money.

       

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        Ninja (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:00am

        Re: Re:

        I'm 100% with you.

         

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        Forest_GS (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 10:33am

        Re: Re:

        I think an extra $100 on top of the base hard drive price would be acceptable(as in, it would sell very well) if the 2TB was filled to the brim with all the TV shows and movies you selected. Another $20 for a portable hard drive enclosure would be a nice option too.

        A 2TB hard drive could hold around 4,500 45min TV shows or around 2,500 movies.

        Too bad the way the system is now, it'll never happen, or it will be over $9000(almost nobody will be able to buy that).

         

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    PaulT (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:26am

    It's also worth noting that those countries are also quite well serviced by other services such as Netflix and Lovefilm, both of which offer far greater ranges of content at (I believe) cheaper prices with no lock-in. Unless you have a particular HBO obsession, why would you sign up here?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 8:31am

    There is no wonder why American companies love meta-monopolies-like-powers they suck hard at delivering anything people want and pirates keep multiplying like rabbits.

     

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    Michael, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:00am

    Of course

     

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    DannyB (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:08am

    So are you saying execution matters?

    This seems to confirm that the execution might be as important as the content itself. Imagine that.

    Newsflash for the people who think the content is everything and the execution doesn't matter. People like HBO.

    So just maybe it isn't so easy to build out a platform like Netflix or YouTube. Maybe it does take a lot of specialized skill and know how. Maybe there is also some value in the distribution platform.

     

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    gorehound (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:18am

    Sounds like a piece of shit greedbag MAFIAA idea of how to do Online Video.
    Go to the TPB and watch your HBO !!! Screw them ! They have no idea how to give a person an honest service.

    Boycott the MAFIAA !!!

     

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    Zos (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:40am

    Such a massive fail. and ofc completely expected.


    weren't you trying to convince us that HBO was a real contender yesterday? Because they were betting against us cord cutters catching on?

    never going to happen, it's not about cord cutters anymore, an entire generation has grown up knowing that every piece of media they could possibly want is a click away. And we're teaching our kids that. Hell, i even taught my 50 year old mother.

    20 years from now, having a cable subscription will be as alien as having a landline, or an aol account. you only see it in the elderly and stubborn.

     

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      Leigh Beadon (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      weren't you trying to convince us that HBO was a real contender yesterday? Because they were betting against us cord cutters catching on?

      Er, no. I was saying that's what they are trying to do, and that it might work for a little while since cable still has some momentum, but I concluded that it's a silly strategy.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:58am

    another example of an entertainment industry promising a lot and delivering squat! it's nothing short of fraud and the EU parliament or something should be investigating this

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 10:34am

    Limiting content? Heck they all do that here

    We have a few services in Denmark offering tv-shows and movies for a subscription(HBO, Netflix, YouBio, ViaPlay and Stofa). The problem is: They are allvery limited...even Netflix. We have the technology now! It works! And the morons just keep using release windows as it were 1993. This is not Netflix's fault but the studios. It got old in 2005 and they really need to stop doing this, because it only works if there is an actual need for it.
    It dosn't help in hyping the show or the movie, it just makes us annoyed and reach for other sources to get their content.

    Btw. the prices here are about 10 for both Netflix and HBO, but Netflix offers a month for free and no binding.

     

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      Leigh Beadon (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 11:34am

      Re: Limiting content? Heck they all do that here

      Btw. the prices here are about 10 for both Netflix and HBO, but Netflix offers a month for free and no binding.

      Interesting... the article I read said 7.99 for Netflix, but I suppose there is probably some variation across the four countries covered by HBO Nordic.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 3:45pm

        Re: Re: Limiting content? Heck they all do that here

        10.6 ($14) to be exact.
        But everything is more expensive here. $100 for a console game and $72 for pc. Even after digital distribution became the new black, prices have only risen.
        They still need another decade in the toaster before they might finally figure out why people are dissatisfied with their services.

         

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    Wally (profile), Jan 18th, 2013 @ 1:14pm

    This sounds familiar...

    "Compare that to the list of complaints, and you realize HBO isn't doing a great job of living up to the expectations it created. Then there's the other truly insane catch: customers are locked into a 12-month contract, after which they must give 3-month notice for cancellation. Yeah. Moreover, the terms stated that simply logging into the service once waives your ability to cancel it because you're not satisfied (despite using the service being the only way to know if you are satisfied)."

    AOL had the same policy for their ISP services...this led to a buyout of and an eventual death to their ISP services. They now only provide streaming content...and that service is dying.

     

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