The definition of TV insanity is watching HBO GO over and over again on Sunday nights and expecting different results.
The network’s much maligned streaming service once again struggled to handle the surge of demand from viewers hoping to watch the new episode of Game of Thrones on their desktop computer, Internet-connected TV, or mobile devices. And HBO even saw the problems coming, sending out a preemptive warning via Twitter on Sunday to anyone hoping to use the service later in the evening:
— HBO GO (@HBOGO) April 13, 2014
None of which, at this point, should be a surprise. HBO GO crashed during the season finale of True Detective last month, and the season première of Game of Thrones a week ago also disrupted the on-demand service. As a result of the recurring problems, Time Warner Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Bewkes has vowed to improve the network’s streaming technology. But to date, there’s no reliable fix.
Then again, what’s the rush? For the time being, the streaming problems would seem to pose little in the way of short-term financial risk to HBO. Several times in the past, network executives have hinted about someday allowing viewers to stream the network’s programming legally without having to pay a monthly satellite or cable TV bill—essentially, by selling HBO GO as an add-on service for broadband Internet subscribers. In theory, the only people using HBO GO at the moment are active HBO subscribers who get the streaming service for free along with their monthly cable bills. If HBO GO is down, they should be able to simply watch Game of Thrones on their living room TV.
In practice, of course, many people who use HBO GO aren’t paying subscribers. They are people who’ve borrowed a password from a friend or relative. If HBO GO crashes during a Game of Thrones episode, there’s nowhere else for these viewers to immediately watch it. The resulting stewpot of furor on Twitter and Facebook is unlikely to cause HBO too much anxiety since streaming-only viewers can’t cancel their subscription if they never paid for one to begin with. If anything, HBO might be enjoying the howls of frustrated cord-cutters, their disappointment serving as free marketing for the network, reminding consumers of the benefits of paying for a subscription.
That said, if HBO is serious about someday selling a streaming-only service, this isn’t a particularly bang-up way of building faith or trust in the product.