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. 

Filed Under: hbo go, restrictions, tv
Companies: hbo

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  1. identicon
    Hellmark, 30 Aug 2012 @ 5:31am


    Since when does adding restrictions stop piracy? Why pay the $20 a month or what ever for HBO then all the additional charges for the streaming when you get locked out when you can pirate it for free? You want piracy to stop? Give affordable options that are on par with what the pirates offer. Right now, they are not.

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