Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Go HBO Go, Go! An App Review for HBO Go

Broadcasting and Cable ran a good summary article yesterday covering what apps are out there in the market to help all of us watch television.  The ability to watch television via our mobile phones is a big deal, because we have such little exposure to television everywhere else in our lives.

I'm usually pretty diligent about trying to get access to TV on my phone, mainly because of all the travel and the fact that I'm usually separated from my DVR

Before anyone suggests it, yes, I know about Slingbox.  But to quickly explain why that won't work...we don't have internet access in our apartment because our building has free wi-fi, however, that free wi-fi isn't fast enough or has the right configuration to enable video streaming through it.  It's why my poor Roku box sits unused next to the DVR (Although I highly recommend the Roku for anyone who actually does have their own internet connection, it's pretty sweet)

But the goal remains to get as much TV onto my phone as humanly possible, and there are a number of apps out there that B&C explain in detail.  Like for instance, did you have any idea that America's Funniest Home Videos was even still making new episodes???  They apparently have their own app!  Crotch shots for everybody!  Although in the article the creator of AFHV tries to take credit for the development of social media, which seems a bit much.

I also didn't know that ESPN has its own app that lets you watch one of four different ESPN on your phone.  Finally a cure for the broken screens on hotel treadmills.  But unfortunately, the Watch ESPN is only a mirage for those of us linked to the wrong cable companies (which is to say, the vast majority of cable companies).  You basically have to have Time Warner or Verizon for TV, and although I'm sure they'll get to more networks, the fact that Kabletown Comcast owns NBC and ESPN is under the ABC/Disney umbrella should pretty much ensure I'll never get it on my phone until I get a new cable provider.  Sigh.

However, I did just download the HBO Go app, and it's everything I could've dreamed of.

Access to what looks like every HBO show, any season, any episode, with pretty darn good quality even over standard data connections.

I watched the first episode of this season's Curb Your Enthusiasm on an elliptical machine, I queued up a couple of Season One Flight of the Conchords episodes from Arkansas, and they have the complete Wire series in case I really want to dive back into the depressing story of a decaying Baltimore.

Now, like ESPN, you have to belong to one of their chosen cable partners (which is a much longer list than ESPN's).  You also have to subscribe to HBO (which I recently won back in our household's biannual threat of cable cancellation to improve our deal)

But, I can imagine a world off in the future where you can pay to subscribe to HBO's app without needing a connection through a designated cable partner.  Payment straight to the content creator doesn't seem all that unrealistic when you think about how the app ecosystem has evolved (someday our TV interfaces could very well look like our phones, with apps as channels, it's one of the things I like about the Roku).  

What's stopping HBO from doing that today with their app and charging anyone who doesn't currently subscribe?  Probably a few things:
  1. Proof of concept - They need to test it out and ensure people will actually watch HBO on their phones apart from nomadic loners
  2. Erosion of physical media sales - Maybe a small factor, hard to say if they're still selling lots of DVD Box Sets.  Those margins would be pretty huge, but if you've been in a Best Buy recently (my first question would be, why?) take a stroll through the physical media section.  Ghost town.  Besides, the mobile app doesn't allow you to watch on a computer/TV, so it isn't exactly a substitute for the DVD experience.
  3. Erosion of paying subscribers - I'm not sure how scared I'd be about this...see above.  This app isn't a substitute (yet) for TV, and most of the stuff I've seen makes it sound like there aren't tons of people excited about cable cord cutting besides me.
  4. Ticking off cable partners - It certainly would make a few people in the Cable industry throw up a little bit, as it would basically cut them out of the loop from taking on another $10 to cable bills.  But as I think about it, what recourse would those guys even have?  I don't think that stripping their channel is a practical solution, but what you might be able to do is take any of your channels and rip them off of Time Warner (HBO's owner).  Comcast has a bunch of channels people would miss (Bravo, MSNBC, Oxygen, and for like four people out there, Versus).  But off the top of my head, I can't think of another company with such an integrated presence that could present a retaliatory threat.
So I don't think there are a ton of roadblocks, although I feel like I need to think more about retribution.  The whole thing is also also based on the assumption that HBO can keep cranking out shows people will pay a premium to see (even if they all seem to run for like five episodes every two years).  If HBO wasn't confident in its ability to consistently crank out the good stuff, then it would be a non-starter to even consider it.

But just download the app and look at the lineup.  It's a freaking gold mine in there.

1 comment:

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