HBO Go Goes Everywhere… Except Your TV Set

from the pls-stop-using-our-services-in-unexpected-ways-kthx dept

Oh, HBO. You want so many people to love you. And they do, shelling out for additional offerings like HBO Go in order to take the shows they love with them on their mobile devices. And what do you do with this love? You crush it. You crush it like a heartless Lothario parting ways with a high-school girlfriend after a quick round under the bleachers, announcing “I’m going to college out of state. Call you sometime,” leaving her half-dressed, teary-eyed and a bit dusty.

The issue has been knocking around for awhile, but today, the unfortunate high school girlfriend was Fred Wilson, respected blogger and venture capitalist.

I put the awesome HBO GO app on the family's iPad yesterday and tried to Airplay into our family room TV. I got audio on the TV but not video. I thought I was doing something wrong. So I rebooted everything and tried again. Same thing.

So I did a web search on the topic to see what was going on. Turns out HBO GO has disabled the video on Airplay but not the audio. That's right. They disabled the video but include an Airplay button in the app.

Why would someone do this? Why brick half the service and leave end users scratching their heads and casting about wildly over at the Apple support forums?

The “why” is the usual “why.” Or rather, two usual “whys.” The first “why” is somewhat of a licensing issue. HBO really doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize its relationship with the studios and cable companies, so it’s limited the functionality of the Go app to mobile devices only. HBO wants you to use HBO On Demand if its current slate of programs isn’t working for you. I would imagine there’s a revenue stream hidden there, but taking advantage of it would mean damaging some valuable relationships. In HBO’s view, Go isn’t broken because fixing it would break something more valuable.

The second “why” is piracy, or rather, the fear of. From the comment thread at AVC:

Having developed these sort of systems before, I can tell you it's because AirPlay is considered an insecure protocol. It's too easy to capture the AirPlay stream and thus, in theory, create HD copies of the video. That's why they don't do it.

I've found that the cryptographic particularities don't always matter when you're in discussions with the studios. They have a list of approved DRMs and technologies and you're either on the list or you're not. Otherwise, you face at least a 6+ month in depth technical review of the stack.

TL;DR: The studios can be somewhat arbitrary in approving or disproving technologies. Last I heard, AirPlay was not approved.

Even if HBO wanted you to have this freedom (and it’s not necessarily clear that it does), it still has to keep the upstream (studios) happy. And if the studios think there’s a possibility that the TV you’re streaming to is actually some sort of unauthorized recording device (like a VCR made out of hard drives?), it’s never going to get the green light.

The next question is this: why put an Airplay button in your app if it’s completely (or at least, mostly) unusable? No real answer is available. Perhaps the hope is that at some point the button will work. Or developer cruelty.

The whole situation is clearly ridiculous and highlights just how incestuous all these services (cable companies, movie studios, premium channels) are. HBO can’t piss off the up and downstream sides of the equation, so it locks down anything that might be perceived as “leaving money on the table.” The combined fear of piracy between these three entities (well, two of them anyway) is likely verging on “unmeasurable.” This results in some very arbitrary restrictions created in the name of copy protection.

Caught in the middle is the cheerleader/consumer. HBO Go requires having an active cable account. The cable box (an additional monthly charge) only provides access to HBO On Demand (another additional monthly charge). Then there’s HBO Go itself (another additional charge). It’s tough to see much more than couch cushion change being left on the table in this situation.

And why do people want to stream HBO Go to their TVs? Because of HBO itself. HBO’s On Demand selection is very limited as compared to HBO Go. On top of that, many users seem to feel that HBO Go’s interface is better and more easily navigated. So, if it’s all paid for, why is this feature bricked?

See above. Piracy fears. Fear of upsetting the balance between the three related parties. But further than that, it’s the inability to recognize that users and customers will want to use your products and services in ways you never intended.

To HBO, it’s likely inconceivable that someone would want to stream to a device and kick it right back to the TV set where its other content resides. But they do. And they’re going to find ways to work around this limitation. When these roadblocks become easily circumvented, rather than realize that these efforts are made to make paid services work the way the customer wants them to, the content providers usually start worrying about their loss of distribution control. This worry leads to less innovation and more disabled features and bogus restrictions.

What they need to be doing (HBO, studios, cable providers) is taking long looks at these complaints and adjusting their offerings to better fit customer expectations. Consider yourself lucky you’re still able to monetize nearly every aspect of these services and look to improve your current offerings. Do this often enough and you may learn to anticipate customer wants and needs. If you’re looking to keep the food chain happy and trim down on “unauthorized” viewing, your best bet is to get to the “anticipation” point as quickly as you can. 

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Companies: hbo

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Comments on “HBO Go Goes Everywhere… Except Your TV Set”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:


Because those HD copies don’t already exist within an hour (maybe two) of the show airing already…

Considering their own statistics and personal experience, it isn’t the ones that exist within an hour that they should be concerned about, but the ones that appear 8 hours before the show airs anywhere, because a friend of a friend got a copy from a friend that knew someone in the production company.

I wish they would just give up on DRM already. They are only fooling themselves when they think DRM prevents infringement, since everyone else knows it happens regardless to DRM. The only way they are going to stop it is to give their customer a chance to buy it using a fair (to the customer) process.

Anonymous Coward says:


What you don’t understand* is that DRM isn’t supposed to stop piracy. It’s just supposed to stop average users that don’t understand computers** from pirating the latest movie. That is why we still need DRM.

* Because, you know, you must be a pirate or something
** and have no friends…or any kids in the family

/Take deep breath
/Laugh Out Loud

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

At this point I think the studios understand that DRM does not story piracy but that’s not it’s main function any more. Since they’ve got laws passed that make it illegal to break locks on content they effectively have a veto on any new technology. If they don’t like something all they have to do is add a flimsy lock that breaks the system and that system becomes illegal.

All the talk about piracy is just the excuse to try and maintain this level of control in the hopes they can codify their current business models into law. Which means that as crazy as it may sound I don’t think the people on the other side of this debate are as stupid as they come across when it comes to these issues.

I think they now understand that piracy is effectively a none issue but they’ve learnt just how much of a powerful tool the fear of piracy is in advancing their goals. Which are sadly based on the idea that they will do anything to get their way and not caring about the fall out of their actions. If they go down they are willing to take everything down with them.

Chris Brand says:


But they don’t want “fair (to the customer)”, they want “what we consider fair”. Hence, DRM, which filters out all the people who don’t want to pay what they’re asking, don’t want to jump through the hurdles they decide to put in the way, are in the wrong country, etc, leaving just the obedient customers who will pay what they ask, how they ask, and will “go without” when they decide that they should.

The fact that the rest of them are still getting the product, but are now not paying *anything* is, of course, then pointed out to politicians as justification to turn the Internet into Cable TV.

When you look at it correctly, DRM makes perfect sense.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Who Cares?

Let them sort out how best to protect their revenue streams. While they are working on that I will continue to use all the free alternatives that stream their programming.

Guess what? We the consumer now understand the safe harbor law and that we are not doing anything illegal by linking to infringing material.

I’m wondering how pissing off the paying customers is protecting the revenue stream. It must work like trickle-down economics.

Anonymous Coward says:

by the time people have paid out for everything, costing a full arm and leg, to achieve almost nothing in the way of a service, not only is it a much cheaper and better option to ‘pirate’, is it any real wonder why people get driven to do so? the studios are their own worse enemy, not in the least because of being so damn greedy but for being as thick as fuck! instead of gaining some revenue, they lose the lot! no sympathy with them at all!!

Anonymous Coward says:

cancel your HBO subscription and tell them why.

you can complain, suggest and rant online as much as you want, but as long as you are paying, they don’t care.

cancel. turn off HBO/Showtime/Etc. Hell, turn off your cable if you want to be bold. but turn it off.


just keep ranting online. because nothing will change.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Absolutely true.

Remember, folks, corporations exist to make a profit. They are amoral engines of economic production. The dollar is the only force they listen to.

Every dollar you spend is a vote for them to continue with whatever their policies are, for better or worse. If you don’t like their policies, stop voting for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

HB who?

Enough with the “Rube Goldberg Machine” solutions and the crap that the dying industry foists on people. Ignore them and move on. Let other people suffer the grief and let the problem companies just die as their sucker market shrivels up and dies.

If you must have usable video content (then you really need a life, but) torrents are a good way to get some.

BTW: I can’t get to tpb by domain name or primary ip today (a rare problem in last 10 years or so where I am), but it could just be a hiccup ( says it is accessible from their US location}. Alternate ip works fine, though. Just point your browser at and you’re at tpb.

Lord Binky says:

Let’s see, so Airplay is not approved, but DHCP which I can order onliner ight now, an HDMI cable for a couple dollars to strip DHCP from the output, and that’s their idea of secure?

Ah, sorry, I just got it. They CARE about the pirates. See, the guy recording and encoding the shows to put online only needs an inexpensive cord to simply record the show, instead of doing some crazy hocus pocus wiz-bang thing to record a show and potentially even losing quality much less their time. How kind of HBO


The funny part

The funny part about all of this is that you are still forced to have a cable subscription. If you have a cable subscription then you’ve already got your ready made escape hatch.

You can simply record from your cable box.

Use a PC HD analog tuner. Record the analog signal. Do what you want with it.

This is how my own not-a-Tivo setup works.

Although I skip the HBO subscription and just buy DVDs.

There is also Netflix. Got 2 GoT BDs at home right now.

All of these can yield files free of restrictions that can be copied to or played on any device.

Matthew (profile) says:

Wired no better than wireless

I bought an HD out dongle for my iPad so my daughter can watch her netflix shows on the big screen. When i tried using it with HBO Go it said that app was not authorized to use HD out.

Let me get this straight: i can only use the app if i subscribe to your channel, but i can’t watch video from the app on the same HD tv that the subscription service feeds?

P.S. Dear HBO, stop putting un-skippable ads for your other shows in front of stuff i watch on HBO Go. You already have my money. Making me watch ads for other stuff i already have access to makes me LESS likely to keep giving you my money, not more.

Panda (profile) says:


I don’t have HBO on my DirecTV, but my friend does. And he has HBOgo too. He comes over to my house sometimes, and using my computer, logs into HBOgo and we can watch Game of Thrones or True Blood, (20 min after it airs) on my 46″ TV set up as a monitor on one input, and having DTV on another input.

HBO loses money on me, since I don’t have their services on my TV, yet I get them with an HBOgo account. (Which they don’t sell separately)

So I can certainly see their point. But I still think their point is ridiculous.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have yet to figure out why people want to watch anything on such a small screen.
For years we have been bombarded with ads to get the biggest flat panel screen we can fit in our living rooms for the “movie theater experience” at home.
Now we’re supposed to take it with us everywhere we go so we can stop in to our local Starbucks and watch a movie or TV show and consume tons of data that we all complain about being too expensive and capped because we’re using too much!
Then on top of all that you subscribe to HBO via cable or satellite that you say you want to cut, to watch on your big screen and then complain because the extra money that you pay for HBOgo doesn’t allow you to watch it on your big screen where it already exists!
Then at the end of the day you you come home all tired out from a long day at work and feel like you been running in circles all day.

The execs at HBO that figured all this out gotta be laughing their asses off right about now watching the dog chase it’s tail

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

HBOgo offers content that isn’t on most cable/sat providers ondemand service.

DTV recently reworked their HBO on demand to include most of what HBOgo offers, but not everything, plus the UI for it is horrible.

Its also about convienence. Convienence trumps quallity/size for the majority of people.

Case in point: Audio DVD/SACD were high quality, but MP3s were way more convienent…MP3 won that format war.

Being able to watch everywhere/anywhere is worth more to people than being tied to a big screen in their living room. Personally for most shows I prefer watching them on my laptop next to my pond in the nice afternoon air than locked away indoors. Only the very best content like Game of thrones gets the big screen treatment.

Swyhart54 says:

HBO Go - Not a go unless on Apple TV

Ok so yes I have an X Box and yes I can stream HBO Go through it in 720, I want it in 1080 on my Apple TV. Apple TV is in need of some more Apps. I’m already paying for HBO – it’s on a Roku player, Xbox 360, PS3 etc, why not Apple TV? If I could get a standalone HBO account I would drop cable like a bad habit. So tired of paying a ton of money every month for the 5 channels I want to watch.

Rob B. says:

It's not about stream security...

At least not the technical security of AirPlay vs. another format. I have an HDMI output on my iphone/ipad, and the HBOGo app will not output video that way either.

They actually do know that TV is the preferred viewing format, so it’s not the content providers they are worried about offending (after all, they own a lot of their own content and could approve that on a file-by-file basis), it’s the downstream distribution apparatus they have trouble with. Streaming from a tablet to your TV threatens the need for cable/satellite TV. Some people would never buy cable but for its requirement to get HBO. If you could replace your cable box with an iPad, it would accelerate the demand for a streaming-only subscription (as others have already demanded in this thread), and that would cost cable providers bigtime.

HBO is going to be one of the longest holdouts on this not only because they depend on the sales efforts of the cable companies, but because they have a complex relationship with TimeWarner cable, one of the largest cable providers in the world. They are no longer owned precisely together, but still have very close ties and many of the same shareholders.

Finally, there’s always the issue of having a password passed around. They are afraid that one person will subscribe to cable and 12 people all over the country will login to use that one subscription.

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