Sunday, February 21, 2010

Streaming video news part two: HBO GO goes live, frustrates consumers

 There have been a few interesting developments in streaming video this week, all of which should have long-term implications for the television industry. I'm hoping to write about all three over the next day or so. Click here to see my thoughts on Hulu to the iPad.

You know how it sucks that it takes HBO programming forever to hit iTunes, DVD sheleves and Netflix? The cable giant has debuted a new online streaming service that might make that frustration go away.


This week, HBO broke news to the media that they were ready to activate HBO GO, an online streaming service providing full episodes of its original content.

According to HBO exec Jeffrey L. Bewkes, the service will offer "three times" as much content as the already-popular HBO OnDemand service, and reports have the current content somewhere around 600 hours.

That's awesome right? It's about time we were able to watch missed episodes of True Blood or Big Love without having to wait for the DVD box set, iTunes, Netflix or, (gulp) illegal download.

Well, the not so awesome news is that we will have to wait -- unless we're HBO subscribers of course. Yes, as of now, HBO GO is only available for current subscribers to HBO or Verizon's FiOS Service.

As Nick Bilton of the New York Times repored, HBO doesn't seem to care about appealing to the millions of people who might enjoy its content, but don't want to pay a month fee -- or for cable television at all. From his report:
Eric Kessler, a president of HBO, said the company was not offering the HBO GO service to attract a new audience. Instead, it hoped to extend its relationship with its current audience.
“We’re a subscription service, and our ongoing overarching objective is to enhance the service to make it better,” Mr. Kessler said. “It’s about enhancing the satisfaction and continuing the life cycle of the subscriber.”
Wow. Doesn't that seem a tad bit short-sighted on the usually-ground-breaking HBO's part? I understand the need to evolve in hopes of keeping the subscribers already on-board, but for a network that does not rely on advertising, wouldn't obtaining new subscribers be a good thing?

And it is not as if people are calling for HBO GO to be free. But the smart play would seem to be that HBO should open up GO to non-subscribers for a small monthly (less than the $10-$16 fee most HBO subscribers pay) or even larger one-time flat-fee. HBO could even limit the number of videos non-TV subscribers watch per day or per week in hopes of convincing them that signing up for the full deal is worth it.

Instead, this feels like an attempt by HBO to continue its "It's not TV" cultural elite mystique. The pay cable giant is damn good at creating financial and taste distinctions between those who can watch HBO programming and those who cannot, so it is actually no surprise to see them further expand those boundaries with GO.

As it stands now, HBO is seemingly more worried about furthering its image than making money -- and that's shocking in today's world.

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