Under the OTT Spotlight, HBO Shows Its Age

Time Warner’s HBO Now has officially launched in the US. The $15 per month SVoD service is available on Apple devices and through Dish Network’s Sling TV streaming pay TV service.

HBO Now enters the world amid what some may dub a pay TV crisis. It has become clearer every day of 2015 that Internet TV is the way forward, from Viacom’s $785 million write-down, to the excitement and buzz surrounding Netflix’s latest original Web-exclusive series, “Daredevil.”

HBO is looking to straddle the spaces these two disparate worlds with HBO Now: it’s a streaming, on-demand platform for HBO’s prized original series and TV shows, one that keeps a respectable distance from its linear TV business. HBO Now’s limited device launch, especially ahead of the season premiere of its most popular show, “Game of Thrones,” is testament to how little Time Warner wants HBO Now to succeed, for now. It’s the same type of thinking that led content owners to require Dish Network to cap its streaming pay TV service, Sling TV, to a few million subscribers.

 

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Parent company Time Warner is wanting HBO Now success

 

HBO must feel that its content speaks for itself. With “Game of Thrones” being the most popular illegally-downloaded show, there’s a whole lot of truth to the idea that a population of viewers are ready to spend $15 per month to access HBO content legally. And it’s likely that there are a large number of viewers that have purchased an Apple TV in order to be able to stream “Games of Thrones” to the TV set.

HBO Now is at once exciting and anti-climatic. The prospect of accessing HBO content without a pay TV subscription is enticing, even with its price, which is a bit high for OTT standards, especially for a service whose device reach is so limited. After a few days of using the app, here are my Millennial-tinged conclusions.

 

The Online Reporter Goes Hands On with HBO Now

The Online Reporter’s Kendra Chamberlain writes: “Downloading the app was remarkably easy – there’s something to be said for HBO allowing iTunes, Cablevision and Dish Networks to handle all its billing. All I had to do was type in my iTunes password and download the app.

The interface is sleek and wonderfully mobile. Big pictures, easy navigation, almost zero typing required. Video playback is smooth, too. There’s no live streaming, or any link to the linear HBO TV channels. I and others are eagerly awaiting the new “Game of Thrones” episode, to see how and when it becomes available on HBO Now.

There are some funny quirks to the app, though. For example, there aren’t any general descriptions for its original series. The viewer must select an episode to read a synopsis, which makes discovery a bit tedious. Perhaps HBO believes everyone already knows what each show is about, but it shouldn’t. Discovery is incredibly important in an on-demand environment, as we’ve witnessed with Netflix and Amazon and Hulu, all three of which have taken different approaches to getting the viewer engaged with a piece of content. HBO’s version of online discovery is bland. I’m not watching the linear TV channel, there will be no point when I stumble onto a show as it’s airing.

I have no idea what “Angels in America” is about, and judging from its cover image, I don’t care to sit through the first episode to find out. That’s the world of OTT.

There are no recommendations, and personalization is limited. There is a “Watchlist,” but viewers can only add individual episodes to the list, instead of being able to add the whole series. There’s only one profile per account, which is a drag when there are differing entertainment tastes under the same roof. Also, the app only operates in landscape mode, which is preferable to watching, but still a bit odd.

This is TV content, and it’s painful to watch on the iPad, at least for me. I’m so accustomed to slinging anything I have on the tablet onto the TV screen that the Apple product limitation feels particularly unfair…”

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