HBO has announced that it is finally going to start offering its content online (in a somewhat meaningful way) through its new HBO on Broadband service. But the initiative seems so unnecessarily complicated that one has to one wonder if HBO gets a sick thrill out of frustrating its customers.
Here are the basics:
- The service is in the testing phase, and will only be available in Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisc.
- To subscribe, you must already have HBO and you must be a Time Warner Cable subscriber (Time Warner Cable, don’t forget, is considering charging for broadband based on usage).
- HBO on Broadband requires a separate (PC only) download.
- You can download movies or HBO TV shows to your hard drive, but they expire after four weeks.
- About six episodes of a TV show will be available at a time. Additionally, each month, all of the episodes of one series will be shown.
- The service won’t feature HD content.
HBO is in a tough position. Its entire business is based on aging media models, such as offering exclusive content and making people pay for its programming. But as Liz pointed out in an earlier essay, we are approaching the end of exclusivity. And at a recent CES panel, entertainment execs said they’re looking to dump paid downloads in favor of ad-supported streaming because “people online want to watch for free.”
Additionally, the parsing out of content works a lot like HBO’s On Demand service, which is simultaneously kinda cool and kinda sucky. It’s obviously nice because you could watch the entire series of Rome without ever leaving your couch. But the method by which they parse out content is aggravating. To ensure that you keep your subscription, HBO dribbles out content slowly and somewhat randomly. Shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Real Time with Bill Maher are in constant rotation, but I’ve never seen a single season of Deadwood be offered.
Rather than muddle matters with an assortment of constantly changing schedules, HBO should just focus on its original content (after all, the movies are old and will be available through numerous other outlets, like iTunes and Unbox). Meanwhile, offer every HBO TV series — and every episode — for online rental. Or syndicate it to Hulu. HBO shows are already sanitized and shown elsewhere on old teevee with ad support, so why not do the same thing online?
Finally, HBO should turn its site into something more meaningful than just a boring rundown of what’s available, with the occasional cast and crew interview. HBO fans are passionate. Tap into that and empower them to create content.
HBO says this broadband plan is just laying the groundwork for the future, but I’m not sure it realizes that the future is already here.