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AT&T Is Dragging HBO's Streaming Strategy Out of the Dark Ages (bloomberg.com)
34 points by dosy 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 108 comments





My problem with this is as follows:

HBO has led the way in making some of the highest quality television of the last 20 years. Competition has gotten stiffer, but I still view HBO as the premier place for TV (Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, Curb, Veep, Leftovers, True Detective, Deadwood... and of course GoT, the list goes on and on). I would argue many of our favorite broadcast/cable shows would simply not exist if HBO hadn't gone there first.

They've had some duds, and certainly have a lot of small-audience niche TV, but for the most part it's a premium quality that I'm willing to pay for.

I'm reading through the lines a bit and here is what I see in the article:

"More content, faster, cheaper."

This isn't about an outdated streaming strategy, HBO Go/Now are fine.

If they race to compete with Netflix (dropping price, increasing output), who is quite literally shitting out content every day, the overall quality of HBO will decline greatly. Netflix started with premiere TV (House of Cards) but has evolved into a massive mess of content, rarely of which any really captures my attention anymore.

Unfortunately, as the money machine needs to be fed, I 100% see HBO slowly turning into a content factory, and quality is going to fall off.

I hope in 3-5 years to come back to this comment and laugh at how wrong I was, but I feel pretty certain about an upcoming quality drop from what was once the bellwether of high quality entertainment.


WRT Netflix, their stated strategy was that their access to data was going to allow them to create superior content as demonstrated (at least for a time) by House of Cards.But it became evident pretty quickly that 1.) The beast needs to be fed with quantity as well as quality (as you say) and 2.) Quality TV/film isn't just an algorithmic exercise.

>WRT Netflix, their stated strategy was that their access to data was going to allow them to create superior content

I would argue that Netflix has and does do this except for a different definition of superior. They aren't really trying to make a single show with broad market appeal. An algorithm isn't going to help with that anyway. What an algorithm can do is find niches to serve. Netflix has done a good job of creating these smaller shows that have an intense appeal to a small number of people. Gather enough of those shows together and eventually you have everyone covered. It is basically just targeted advertising except with TV shows.

HBO might have GOT that everyone watches, but Netflix has Black Mirror, BoJack Horseman, GLOW, You, The Crown, Russian Doll, Narcos, Maniac, Ozark, One Day At A Time, Big Mouth, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and numerous other shows that have received critical acclaim and everyone probably watches at least one of those.


There's truth to that. The dynamics are certainly different than simply counting the total number of eyeballs watching your programming. Everyone having one or two must sees on your [all you can eat subscription] network probably trumps 10 shows that people are "Meh, it's something to watch."

Your last point is a strong one - Great TV seems RISKY before it finds success and it should be!

For example, Netflix show "Ozark" is pretty good! But I can pretty much guarantee it wouldn't have existed if AMC hadn't taken a gamble on "Breaking Bad" first.


You can have the best 3 shows on any platform, but if all you have is 3 shows, people won't sign up or stay. Netflix had to invest in quantity side by side with quality because the content providers started taking their ball and going home.

This is true if you want to be the biggest streaming service, but I don’t think it’s true for HBO.

One of the potential flaws in Netflix’s strategy is whether they will have to keep investing heavily in content in line with price increases.

The other, which I would not say is a flaw, but merely going to opposite direction by only producing a few, high quality shows is a differentiated offering from Netflix.


If you have economical access to a bunch of OK mainstream content, it's reasonable to put all your wood behind just a few arrows. You won't get a big hit every time but you can increase your odds by lining up the right people and opening a fat checkbook. And those few hits may be enough to get people to renew.

But if your licensed content is mostly drek, you have to create filler content yourself, even if it's mostly just OK.


I don't disagree with this, but it's important to acknowledge that "drek" for you might be someone else's niche interest. Sure, some TV is just objectively bad (low production values, whatever), but easily-dismissed shows like Sugar Rush and movies like the Christmas Prince series have legitimate audiences who find them interesting and engaging.

One of the most significant and under-acknowledged strategic differences between Netflix and a traditional TV network is that they're not limited by a schedule— they don't need to pick just one show to put in that key Sunday night primetime slot, and they don't need to look at what they're "up against" in the same slot on the other networks. Their only practical limit is budget— ergo, a strategy of lots of niche, long-tail appeal type content makes a ton of sense.


All good points. There's a flip side to the schedule aspect too. Traditional broadcasters also need to fill up slots even if they know they don't have anything great to fill a hole. Which I expect was one of the drivers behind reality TV; you might as well fill the hole with something cheap if you don't expect a scripted show to be at least a reliable audience draw. (And I expect scripted shows are less predictable as well.)

(By "drek," I was mostly thinking of old second-tier and third-tier sitcoms and the like. I'm actually a bit surprised there isn't more of this sort of content; perhaps it's the tension between having lots of content and basically burying your tier-1 content with a bunch of mostly "crap.")


We're in a golden age of television in part because everyone is producing high-quality shows. For every Deadwood, there's a Justified; True Detective, a Mindhunter. HBO has never been the best place for comedy series and, good as Crashing was, it remains an also-ran there as well.

HBO's quality has been pretty far off its peak for awhile. GoT is a tentpole show with a rabid audience but it's not especially good (it's no The Wire). Deadwood and the Sopranos are from a different era of TV. Veep is great, but True Detective, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Enlightened, and The Newsroom would all be in the middle of the pack at Netflix.

More importantly than what Netflix itself creates is the fact that everyone else is creating great TV, and Netflix can just license it. The Americans is better than anything HBO ever produced except The Wire, and it's an FX show. So are Atlanta and Better Things, both better than any HBO comedy series other than Veep. AMC has Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, which arguably are the best thing ever done on TV.

The Deuce is great, but if I have to choose between paying for one show of that caliber per month, or just getting access to stuff like Counterpart, Legion, Get Shorty, Halt and Catch Fire, and Fargo, it's pretty obvious where I'm getting my money's worth.

Which is the big dilemma with HBO's previous strategy. There is too much content that clears the bar HBO set available outside of HBO for them to charge a premium, unless they can keep bottling lightning like they did with GoT, which is not at all a sure bet.


> GoT is a tentpole show with a rabid audience but it's not especially good (it's no The Wire). Deadwood and the Sopranos are from a different era of TV. Veep is great, but True Detective, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Enlightened, and The Newsroom would all be in the middle of the pack at Netflix.

As The Dude once said "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man"

Objectively speaking, there isn't a single Netflix-original TV show rated over 9 on IMDB: https://www.justwatch.com/us/provider/netflix/tv-shows?ratin...

Compared to 7 titles on HBO: https://www.justwatch.com/us/provider/hbo-now/tv-shows?ratin...

But I think your point is that when we're talking about "The Wire" level production, others have caught up (AMC, FX, etc) and Netflix can simply license those titles. But, there's notable downsides to that (you have to wait, there's a significant cost to purchase, etc). Also, AMC, FX, etc have yet to establish a long-term credibility for consistently creating high quality content...until they do, HBO as the "premium offering" in light of others is still there.

At the end of the day we're talking about whether HBO's content can sustain the justification of paying $15/month. You just need rabid audiences for that to happen, not "one dude on the internet thinks The Wire is greatest thing ever created".


How many of those HBO titles are more than 5 years old? Because, comparing 45 years of programming to 5 is completely missing the point.

GoT was low hanging fruit with great source material. Recently HBO’s actual original content has been lacking. Their library is enough to get people to sign up and binge watch old content, but they need to pay for a lot of 3rd party content and or high volume production like Netflix to keep people paying 15$ a month.

In the end streaming needs new content to keep people paying every month. And the economics of that are going to be brutal.


> How many of those HBO titles are more than 5 years old? Because, comparing 45 years of programming to 5 is completely missing the point.

No, having 45 years of exclusive back catalog is a real and concrete competitive advantage.

> GoT was low hanging fruit with great source material.

I'm not sure I agree; I mean, I get why it seems like they in retrospect, but the history of genre fiction jumping from print to film (whether big screen or small) is littered with dozens of corpses of failures of conversions of “great source material” for every even modest success.

> Their library is enough to get people to sign up and binge watch old content, but they need to pay for a lot of 3rd party content and or high volume production like Netflix to keep people paying 15$ a month.

I pay for both HBO Now and Netflix, and I pay of HBO Now largely because it has fairly consistent if low volume high quality new original exclusive content, unlike Netflix's high-volume firehose of stuff I have no interest in that occasionally produces something of value, which even with their supposedly personalized recommendations is still hard to find and identify among the sea of mediocrity.

> In the end streaming needs new content to keep people paying every month.

So did premium TV. HBO is more focussed on providing very high quality to a more focussed audience while Netflix is running a scattershot content approach; the latter probably has less value per customer but can perhaps support a larger customer base; or it's a consciously unsustainable model that only lasts until they figure out what their target audience really is.

EDIT: however, AT&T seems to want to try something closer to the Netflix strategy with HBO, which I think is likely to be a disaster, but possibly one that gets recognized in time to turn around.


I don't think that last argument is true. Yes, Netflix has a shotgun approach to picking content. But Netflix has core prestige series that hold their own against HBO, and HBO has middling series that go nowhere; the only difference is that Netflix has more stuff.

HBO was mostly showing Movies aka 3rd party content. Their original content was largely differentiation so people had a reason to pay for HBO over Stars becase they both had movies but only HBO had the Sopranos.

In that context having a small number of very high quality shows works well. But, exclusive high quality moves are really expensive.

Over the next 45 years AT&T does not want to produce a lot of content, they simply can’t stay competitive without a lot of new content.


> HBO titles are more than 5 years old?

5 years since their first season or since they discontinued content? If the former, why does that matter? 4 of those 7 are still all actively creating content/seasons...

> GoT was low hanging fruit with great source material. Recently HBO’s actual original content has been lacking.

So because GoT came from a book, it's not "truly original"? The Wire is arguably sourced from Simon's "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" and several books/dissertations on crime in inner cities. Not sure what your real point is there....regardless of whether it's "truly original" (whatever that means) doesn't matter as long as people show up to pay.

> In the end streaming needs new content to keep people paying every month.

Again, 4 of those 7 shows have new content. You don't necessarily need a variety of content to do so. In fact, I would argue Netflix dilutes it's original content by having too much of it. Paradox of choice and all...

I think the scarier thing is HBO has no clear "anchor" going forward. Sopranos, The Wire, and GoT have all been that, but GoT is on its way out.


It matters both to compare models and for consistency going forward. Continuing a hit series is a lower risk in the short term, but you need constant pipeline as shows eventually die off.

In terms of GoT they need to pay a 3rd party money reducing profits and their is a limited amount of such content which they need to compete for. They also paid for the the True Blood novels and created less compelling content.

This both hurts their bottom line and creates real risk if they can’t find any affordable content to base their next series off of.

PS: The other issue with long running content is anyone who does not like the series will write off HBO for the next 5+ years when it’s running unless they have other high quality content.


That's not a great metric. Here's a much better one: Metacritic will give you an aggregate score for every TV show made during a year, and also does a year-end Pazz-and-Jopp-style roundup of critic top 10 lists; here's 2018's:

https://www.metacritic.com/feature/critics-pick-the-top-10-b...

(You can edit the URL to go back to 2015).

The actual critic roundups tell as much a story of FX's dominance of prestige TV as HBO's. And if you want a popular opinion instead, the ratings have a much bleaker story about HBO.

While I think Netflix does just fine as an original producer lined up against HBO, it's not a central part of my argument that they're better than HBO. My core argument is that HBO doesn't host enough prestige series for it to command a premium over all the other series available across other platforms.


> and also does a year-end Pazz-and-Jopp-style roundup of critic top 10 lists; here's 2018's:

A ranking based on how many paid-for critics are talking about a TV show? Huh? That's like saying "this startup is better than another because they've gotten more press on TechCrunch/Wired/WSJ/etc". IMDB is imperfect, but it's a better proxy for what consumers enjoy.


No, that's critics selecting shows for year-end best lists.

If you're looking for what consumers enjoy, look at the ratings, where HBO also does not fare especially well.


It boils down to preferences. I personally feel the quality of HBO’s shows & series is dramatically higher than even the peak quality of Netflix or Prime original offerings. They are simply nowhere close. They’re not even playing the same sport.

Pretty much every Netflix darling I’ve spent time to watch (Stranger Things, House of Cards, Russian Doll, Maniac, Bird Box, Roma) has been a huge disappointment.

By comparison with HBO, I only feel that way about True Detective Season 2 and Crashing (the Pete Holmes show). Other shows have variation of course and some are more interesting or less to me, but none of them have been sincerely big disappointments, while nearly every single darling that Netflix puts out is pretty crap.


> True Detective, a Mindhunter.

"Mindhunter" was great but it's no "True Detective" IMO.


Mindhunter was basically the Netflix algorithms saying "True Detective is popular, let's do that!"

No, it was David Fincher wanting to do a crime series. Netflix orders a lot of crappy algorithm based content but a lot of their content is created through purchasing other people's ideas/concepts.

Mindhunter's first (and only) season is much better than True Detective 2 and arguably better than True Detective 3.

I like the idea that Netflix needed an algorithm to discover that people like true crime detective stories.


I noticed something similar. HBO seems to have a "premium" brand mostly because it led the pack with their content before streaming, but that was a while ago. Given that I'm 41 years old, I remember the early shows that set HBO apart. But I'm not sure this holds for the 20 year olds and younger right now.

It sure seems like HBO executives think they're a cut above, though: https://static1.businessinsider.com/att-ceo-compares-hbo-to-...

I'm just not sure they can justify their "premium" status with their price point. GoT's final season is nearly here, and after that, I'd be curious if cancellations start to happen.


>and after that, I'd be curious if cancellations start to happen.

100% going to happen in the worst way and they know it.


The young people like Westworld. They may have duds, but their good exclusives are just that, good and exclusive.

So long as they have one above and beyond show every time they will be fine.


As a young person who likes Westworld, this is a great strategy for like 1 month a year. What are they going to do for the 15-ish months of downtime they have between seasons?

Right now they have a limited selection of high quality shows, just enough to keep people hooked for the next great one. If they switch to just pumping out lower-quality, higher-quantity stuff, I suspect people will just cancel -- everyone already has Netflix for that.

HBO seems to think it's the next "Netflix", but if they follow the strategy they've described so far, I suspect they'll be the next "CBS All Access".


> HBO seems to think it's the next "Netflix"

AT&T seems to think HBO can be HBO and also be Netflix; they're wrong, but it's not inevitable they’ll break the being HBO part irrecoverably before they realize that.


Westworld's ratings are far south of even True Blood's. It's a good show. But it's not in many people's top tier.

Eh what? Westworld is rated 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8/10 on IMDB. True Blood is rated 69% and 7.9/10 on the same platforms, respectively.

Which ratings are you looking at?

EDIT: I also checked Metacritic. True Blood is rated 68 on average across seven seasons, meanwhile Westworld is rated 75 on average across two seasons. If you take the Metacritic rating peak of Westworld (Season 1) and the Metacritic rating peak of True Blood (Season 3), True Blood is only four points ahead.

Given the difference between the Metacritic score and the Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB scores, I'd be inclined to chalk it up to different audiences. But even on the preferential platform Westworld basically at parity with True Blood, not "far south" of it.


Ratings, as in, how many people watch the show. Obviously, Westworld is a better show than True Blood. But HBO needs people to want to watch it. On the metric that matters, True Blood was a more important show for HBO, and Westworld did not make up for it.

Ah, I see what you're saying.

> More importantly than what Netflix itself creates is the fact that everyone else is creating great TV, and Netflix can just license it.

The whole reason Netflix started creating its own original content was because they can't license good stuff from elsewhere anymore. It's too expensive.

That play worked reasonably well when everyone else thought of streaming as a tiny niche market, since that meant they were willing to sell streaming licenses to their content for peanuts. But those days are over; everyone understands that streaming is Prime Time now, and they'd rather not have Netflix sitting between them and their main audience.


Netflix and Amazon Prime represent most of the best TV drama series of the last 10 years, and what isn't on those services is available a la carte from Apple and Amazon.

I know the article sets up the conflict this way, but the point really isn't that Netflix is an unstoppable juggernaut, so much as that what Netflix represents is. Maybe Amazon will figure things out and it'll come to dominate TV, or maybe Netflix will, but either way: HBO hosts only a small fraction of the prestige shows, in an era where there are too many to watch anyways.

The rap on HBO has been, if you look at the ratings, they have GoT, and used to have True Blood, and before that The Sopranos, and that's what's kept people paying. GoT is going away. Content of the same quality is much more available now than when GoT started running. Why are people going to pay a premium for HBO?


> GoT is going away.

GoT has, at the last count I saw, four successor series under development at HBO (down from a peak of five, and likely but not certain to get down to only the best actually getting full-scale production), with one already, unless I missed a schedule change, already filming, with the showrunners of GoT and GRRM all involved in all four.

> Content of the same quality is much more available now than when GoT started running.

I don't think that's actually true. It think content of GoT quality is available from almost exactly the same number of sources, in almost exactly the same number of titles, as when GoT first aired, and that's even more true if you consider value to people who would pay $15/mo just for GoT (and even if it wasn't, most of the people who would can afford to pay the same amount more than once if they have another source of equal-quality content available.)


If HBO can keep GoT going indefinitely at this level of audience engagement, it'll do fine. But Netflix and Amazon aren't dependent on a single tentpole show the way HBO is, which is part of HBO's vulnerability. I think AT&T's take on HBO is dead on.

> Netflix and Amazon Prime represent most of the best TV drama series of the last 10 years

I guess this comes down to personal preference, so it's possible to argue that, but I would absolutely disagree. A look at the list of Emmy Award winners for Best Original Drama (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primetime_Emmy_Award_for_Outst...) surfaces many titles that show that cable and broadcast networks haven't been sitting still this decade: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter, Downton Abbey, True Detective, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, The Americans, The Good Wife, Mr. Robot, Better Call Saul, This Is Us, etc.

You can argue that the list of Emmy winners has been slanted until very recently by bias against streaming providers. And I wouldn't disagree with that! But my point in citing Emmy winners isn't to say that those awards are an infallible guide to what's good and what isn't; it's just to say that there's been plenty of good programming coming out of cable networks over the last 10 years.

> Maybe Amazon will figure things out and it'll come to dominate TV, or maybe Netflix will

Netflix has already given up on the idea of dominating TV. Their shift to original programming means they're not trying to be your one source for everything anymore, they just want to be a source with enough good programming to convince people they're worth subscribing to. Which, as a business model, is kind of like... HBO.

Netflix's Ted Sarandos has even said this explicitly: "The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us." (https://www.gq.com/story/netflix-founder-reed-hastings-house...)


The shows you're listing there are, excepting True Detective and Boardwalk Empire (which is a second-tier show!), generally available on Netflix and Amazon. They cost Netflix and Amazon to run, sure. But HBO can't run them at any price.

This post is completely subjective. It seems obvious that numerous people disagree on your assessment of quality. GoT "not especially good"? HBo doesn't have good comedy? Ever seen an episode of Curb?

You then go on to base your conclusion on your subjective view of the quality of their shows. If anything, I'm inclined to believe the opposite of what you say given how many people would disagree with the basis of your argument.


My argument doesn't really depend on where you put Game of Thrones. It's clear to everyone that GoT is HBO's tentpole series; it's critically important to their service. It's not my argument that it's not valuable IP; it's the most valuable IP in television.

Your entire premise is based upon your perceived quality of HBO's programming.

No, it's not. My argument isn't "The Americans is better than GoT†". My argument is that critics (through reviews) and consumers (through ratings) no longer set HBO's shows apart into a prestige category that HBO dominates. That's an empirically verifiable fact.

It is, though.


>My argument is that critics (through reviews) and consumers (through ratings) no longer set HBO's shows apart into a prestige category that HBO dominates. That's an empirically verifiable fact.

Based on... ?


Viewer ratings and sites like Metacritic? This isn't hard.

>HBO has never been the best place for comedy series and, good as Crashing was, it remains an also-ran there as well.

That might be true in terms of popularity, but in terms of critical success Veep & Curb Your Enthusiasm were pretty dominant.


Critical success doesn't pay the bills (though it may be more indicative of value in the back catalog than first-round popularity is.)

Here's the funny thing about content being "great" - it's a matter of opinion. I (personally) wouldn't put the Americans in my top 10 shows, or maybe even top 20, and at least 5 of those are from HBO. As opposed to Breaking Bad, which would be in my top 3 along with The Wire and something else which changes depending on the week and my mood.

Agreed the GoT is a lot of fun but not particularly "great" in the same way as others of these...


> HBO has never been the best place for comedy series

Hey now! The Larry Sanders Show begs to differ.

... also Mr. Show.


This is the same HBO that let Mr. Show die, refused to pick up Mr. Show 2.0 when Bob and Dave pitched it, and let them wind up at (checks notes) Netflix?

Yeah I really don't understand this move. HBO has a product that is profitable and well loved by it's users explicitly because it is not Netflix and features content that would never show up on Netflix (except maybe via FX). It makes no sense to blow that up in order to create Netflix 2.

Frankly I think going after Netflix in general is a dumb move. They own that mass market content space, you're never going to displace them, Hulu already tried and failed miserably, give up. Why not amass a series of these premium brands (eg Showtime) and focus on becoming the place for awesome smart content to augment Netflix?


I’d add Tom Fontana’s “Oz” [1] to the list, to this day I keep track of its excellent actors by saying “I’ve seen this guy on Oz before” whenever I see a former Oz actor in a movie or a newer series.

[1] https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0118421/


Agreed. Content is king, and I think HBO understands that very well. I go to HBO for curated, high quality entertainment.

I see this less as a business problem and more of a technology problem with regards to their streaming platform. All big platforms suffer (possibly painfully) in the beginning (e.g. Twitter's fail whale), but that's when it's up to business leadership to stay the course, dive into the problem, and commit to solving it on your own. Look at how much emphasis in this article is placed upon HBO getting away from rivals running their platform! Yet a short period ago they surrender in-house operations to MLB AM? Constant pivoting gets you nowhere.

I see AT&T swooping in to "pick up the pieces" as they see it, and the sad conclusion I foresee is exactly what you described.


> Netflix .. has evolved into a massive mess of content, rarely of which any really captures my attention anymore.

I think this really gets to the difference between the two. With Netflix I am provided a barrage of content suited to my interest at a quality that is distractingly mediocre. With HBO I constantly find myself running out of content that I think suits my taste, but when I try something out of my wheelhouse I often find the production well executed and the subject surprisingly engaging.


>This isn't about an outdated streaming strategy, HBO Go/Now are fine.

This has been my experience for anything that isn't live. I can never successfully watch a "live" episode of Vice without the stream degrading to potato quality at various times. But within minutes of the episode completing I can view that same content without any issue.

I can only speculate as to what their problems might be. But their live streaming experience is quite poor.


I concur. I am both a Netflix and HBO subscriber, but even though it has far less content, I watch HBO much more often. I would easily be willing to pay much more for it to survive.

HBO is the rare gem in today's entertainment world that still produces high quality content, where you can rely on it to be good when it's coming from them.

I hope they don't join the race and stay on their own path.


> HBO Go/Now are fine.

Not really, they are lousy apps.

You can fix that without engaging in the "spew content and see waht sticks" style of netflix.


HBO Go was pretty bad when I used it; worse than HBO Now was both before and after. Not sure why it isn't just exactly HBO Now with the added cable provider verification component.

Absolutely this. A number of reasonably happy HBO customers will be turned off by the side effects of this strategy.

But a lot of media consumers won't mind or even be aware that they're becoming more of a commodity than the content itself. I kinda do.


everyone forgets Oz :(

I love Oz, watched every episode during its initial run. But it was not a critical darling at the time.

The bigger sin is not mentioning Larry Sanders. That was a cultural milestone during its time in the same way Sopranos and Sex and City Were. Curbed feels like its spiritual successor.

And of course the one that started it all for HBO in the early 90s, the one that broke the mold for an adult sitcom, from the creators of Friends - Dream On.


I think this goes to show how much of an impact HBO had on television.

There isn't an argument quite like this outside of maybe NBC's 90s sitcoms, arguing about Seinfeld/Friends/Frasier or AMC's late-aughts Mad Men/Breaking Bad/Walking Dead.


Because it's not that good. It was good for its time, but TV today is different and better than TV was in 1999. People were still watching laugh-track sitcoms when Oz was in its prime.

>People were still watching laugh-track sitcoms when Oz was in its prime.

Like... Big Bang, the number one network sitcom which averages 18.5 million viewers?


Hell, people are still rewatching Seinfeld. I was driving around LA a month ago and saw a billboard promoting Seinfeld reruns.

Laugh tracks are strongly maligned yet people still love the shows that use them.


Well that's because Seinfeld is the best show ever and don't you dare disagree with me.

Ugh I hate admitting to this, but I still haven't watched it

I know, right??? I was gonna say the same thing.

Simply put, AT&T will drag HBO into the dark ages.

I personally have not found the UX of HBO's streaming offerings (I use HBO GO, primarily through an iPad and a PS4) to be appreciably worse than Netflix's. The apps load and are straightforward to find my way around in, I can always find the content I'm looking for, I've never had any technical issues prevent me from streaming that content.

In some regards, I would even say their UX is better than Netflix's -- scrolling through a list of items in the HBO apps doesn't trigger a parade of loud auto-playing videos, and HBO doesn't visually privilege their own original content over stuff they've licensed by giving it huge icons and putting it at the top of every list.

The article mentions that HBO couldn't handle the streaming demand for Game of Thrones in 2014, which is pretty bad, but which was also five years ago. It doesn't mention them having problems like that anymore, so it seems reasonable to assume they learned something from the experience.

If anything, I would say HBO's biggest failure is in marketing/branding: naming their offering for cable subscribers "HBO GO" and the one for cord-cutters "HBO NOW" is an invitation for confusion, and the logos/icons for the apps are so similar anyone could be forgiven for downloading the wrong one. They need to distinguish these services better, and provide some incentive to use HBO Now to attract people like me who are getting HBO through their cable company to jump to having a direct relationship with them instead.


There's also the DirecTV Now app, which gets bundled with some AT&T mobile plans, and the UX there is much worse than in HBO Now. I don’t think you can make watchlists, and it won’t pick up from the same time if you get interrupted.

A couple years ago, HBO GO was horrible in FireFox, so much so that I downloaded Chrome specifically to use HBO GO. Not sure if it's still the case.

HBO is still lacking certain basic features; their dearth of different watcher profiles is appalling, especially when Netfix has had it for years. It's personally a pet peeve of mine when I share an account, the other person watches something I was in the middle of, and I lose my place. Basic UX shit like this is inexcusable.

I wonder if they've unified HBO GO/NOW. I remember reading when NOW launched that it and GO were separate Java applications maintained by separate teams.


Completely agree - HBO's app is as good as any of them.

I'll add that Netflix is the only video app I've used that mismanages the chromecast control ui. Basically every other time I cast Netflix the app loses track of the cast stream, reverts to the browsing ui or other failure mode and I can't pause the stream from my phone. No other app does this.


I subscribe to HBO Now on an Apple TV. I really wish it could remember that I have enabled closed captions (I have a hearing impairment). Netflix does not seem to have trouble with persisting settings.

I like HBO just as it is and can't fathom why anyone would claim it is in the dark ages.

"Decisions are made slowly and by consensus; longtime employees guard the network’s lucrative, award-winning status quo." -- this is said like it is a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with not being "disruptive" and being slow and steady to stay excellent.

Many businesses and consumers would be better off if there were less pressure to be #1.


I've been very happy with PS Vue, I just wish they'd quit raising their prices every 6 months.

Not having 4k streaming is a big one.

Deliberation is slowly going extinct in favor of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. I see it as the "news feed"-ification of video content.

OR A/B testing until every product fits only the lowest common denominator niche.

Same argument as the "dictatorship of the majority" in democratic government. Everybody doing what is most popular results in many people losing.


It is perfectly possible to A/B content to find which content targets a more lucrative niche.

It just depends on the goals you set for the test.


For those (like me) who are puzzled by some of the assertions made in this article -- I suspect that it's what journalists refer to as a "beat sweetener"[1].

Reporters have particular sectors, companies, etc. they're assigned to cover; these are referred to as their beat. To get stories, a journalist has to develop sources within those sectors/companies/etc. -- people "in the know" who are willing to share information with them. Developing sources is a hard thing to do, as people tend not to talk to reporters unless they've got an axe to grind, which biases their information and makes it less useful to you.

One way to get potential sources to open up to you is to butter them up in advance with some flattering coverage. Once you're fixed in their memory as the guy/gal who wrote that great story about them, they're less likely to see you as an adversary.

So it's not uncommon, when a new executive takes over somewhere, to see a glowing profile of them appear -- a profile that "explains" how all the problems the place the executive just took over at are the fault of their departed predecessor, who was an idiot whose momma dressed him funny, and how the new executive's bold, daring Vision for the Future™ will solve them all at a stroke.

I have no hard evidence whether that's the actual thought process that led to this puzzling article, of course. It just really, really reads that way.

[1] See https://www.thenation.com/article/washingtons-beat-sweetener..., https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2009/04/a-beat-sweetener...


If AT&T wants to drag anything out of the dark ages, I wish they would take a look at the DVRs they give to their customers. They are so slow and their user interface is atrocious.

When our contract is up, we are going to try YouTube TV and Hulu to see if either of those is better.


The solution is DirecTV Now and, while far from perfect, is under very active development.

It's not really a solution. It has a terrible interface. Same with Playstation Vue and Hulu+Live TV. They're all geared towards people who turn on their tv and get blared at by whatever random channel it's tuned to. None of them comes close to what Tivo was doing 20 years ago where the menu of your currently recorded shows became front and center and live tv became a secondary concern.

Not to mention that several of those services have certain shows blacked out on their DVR service, and some even convert your recorded shows into on-demand versions which (or course) contain unskippable commercials.

When I cut the cord last summer it was extremely sobering realizing that all the fancy new internet tv services were so far behind my already long in the tooth Tivo.


> some even convert your recorded shows into on-demand versions which (or course) contain unskippable commercials

Is there a higher paid tier that gets rid of those commercials?


I think our current provider is actually DirecTV, but I'm not 100% sure.

There are a lot of on-demand channels, but you can't skip the ads in them so I'm not going to watch them. Is DirecTV now better with respect to ads?


Am I going to be able to give them money in exchange for watching Game of Thrones? Or do they still expect me to mix and match a cable TV package, a "partnered" home entertainment box, and some other nonsense?

I fear HBO Now will get bundled with whatever other Time Warner channels into some Netflix-like app. You can still pay for HBO without cable, but now instead of $15/mo, it’s going to cost $30 with twice the content (that you didn’t want in the first place). And they’ll expect it to compete with Netflix. I expect for none of this to affect GoT last season, but probably by the time season 3 of Westworld rolls around.

But at least if you have ATT phone service, you’ll be able to watch it for free.


You can subscribe to HBO NOW for $15 a month.

That was an option last season too, but I think I had to have a unique, partnered, non-computer device on which to register the HBO Now account, and the process was broken on the one "acceptable" device I had. I don't remember what it was, but I do remember digging it out of storage and being terribly inconvenienced.

In any case, after two thorough, time-consuming attempts I gave up and mooched of a friend who had recently bought a Roku or something.


Creating a HBO Now account can be done through the web at https://hbonow.com/

You need a web browser.


In that case, I'm cautiously optimistic that they've reconsidered the nonsense!

You can buy Game of Thrones on iTunes if you find that preferable to a subscription. I believe this is the case for all HBO shows.

(By contrast, Netflix shows are not available on iTunes. I had to wait a year for Stranger Things to come out on BluRay...)


If you live in a country where they offer HBO Now, you should be able to do it today. You'll still need a box of some type to consume the content, but it looks like they're covering all of the major players[0].

[0]: https://www.hbo.com/order/hbo-now-devices


You can use a modern web browser to play the content. Safari works without issues for me.

No need for a extra device of any sort.


Knowing they're owned by ATT, once Sonic installs my fiber I'm going to ditch Comcast and explicitly avoid spending money on any of this telco-aligned junk.

I prefer HBO’s content and streaming app so much more than Netflix/Hulu, I always start there if I am wondering what to watch.

The best HBO experience is on Amazon. HBO Now is so unreliable and bad that I cancelled it and added the HBO Now channel to my Prime Subscription. Same content, but a player that actually works.

HBO Now's web player (on my Macbook Pro, anyway) would not play in HD on an external monitor no matter what I did. HDPC is working. Every other service (including Netflix) worked fine. Only HBO reverted to SD video as soon as I moved my browser window to my 4K display, no matter what browser I used. I'm sure the problem is Silverlight. But it's ridiculous that they still use that piece of garbage.


Slight tangent: Does anyone find it weird that no matter what you watch, HBO puts a 30 second preview for something else before your show. Fix that - and a skip intro button. Otherwise, keep it as is.

Needs an "Are you still watching?" prompt as well. It will play every episode of a series if you fall asleep while watching. Would cut costs for them too.

While I can appreciate "HBO Now", which is netflix-esque, I fear HBO is still too bogged by the legacy of being a premium cable channel. "HBO Go" is just that, restricted to the cable TV bundling problem. With AT&T in the mix, I can see it going to needing Cable TV or AT&T wireless internet as the requirement to be able to buy HBO. If that happens, they'll still not be as good Netflix at distribution.

Subtitle: With Richard Plepler out, new boss Robert Greenblatt will need to fix years of missteps to catch up to Netflix.

If what they are giving HBO is anything like the “AT&T Watch TV” app, that’s a pretty accurate subheading. The user experience is a solid 5 years behind Netflix and Hulu.


The current HBO Go app has a really good interface, much better than Netflix and sooo much better than Hulu's jumbled mess (on the AppleTV). I can find the shows I want to watch easily, the current shows are easy to find on the main page, the categories are clean and easy to sort through. Just the fact that you scroll down and not some infinite row like in Netflix works so much better on the TV.

By 5 years behind do you mean HBOs interface is like Netflix of 5 years ago? If so that isn’t going to take 5 years to catch up. I’m not sure what’s so bad about it. Then again I knew exactly what I wanted to watch.

most of the large media companies need a wakeup call... why is it easier to find pirated content then finding a source willing to take your money for non-drm content...

Perhaps their streaming strategy needs to be dragged out of the dark ages, but I don't think the situation bodes well for the quality of their content. The CEO who just left was apparently beloved by creators in the industry, and the new one just wants a firehose of content like what Netflix offers. So it feels like the end of an era.

Looks like the future will be HBO trading on the brand they built over the last few decades but content-wise attempting to match Netflix. I hope I'm wrong.




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