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.