A while back registered visitors of HBO.com received an email to the effect of:
Soon you will do more than just watch HBO.
Get ready to establish your voice at the new HBO.com. On January 21, we?ll be asking you to re-register, personalize your experience, and be among the first to forge fresh connections at a brand new HBO.com
via HBO Online Communications
It is probably safe to say now that HBO was upgrading its systems to handle HBO GO, the new TV Everywhere version of the popular Pay TV channel. After a year or so trial on the Comcast, now XFinity system, HBO is ready to roll out premium content to subscribers on another screen through a new portal. However, visiting HBO GO, you will only see Verizon FIOS as an option.
Comcast already offers the same HBO content through the Fancast Xfinity TV online service, which it launched to customers nationwide in December 2009. However, the MSO has opted to not offer subscribers access through the HBO Go portal, which HBO co-president Eric Kessler described as “HBO On Demand with the engine and styling of a Ferrari.”
HBO promises its service will be different. Showtime tried and abandoned offering their original programming online, finding it easier to use third party services for digital distribution. Starz Play is still in play listing, guess who, Verizon FIOS as an affiliate. You may have heard about how the studios feel about Starz Play these days. EpixHD is the newest entrant into the PayTV service arena and showed up with online access out of the gate. Epix recently announced upcoming support for mobile screens to its service, staying ahead of the curve. But back to HBO…
As you’d expect, the videos are available in HD, otherwise we just would’ve skipped this post altogether. Now of course this is HD Flash which means although it is obviously a higher resolution than SD, it won’t be mistaken for Blu-ray — and of course requires a fast CPU. Regardless, the picture quality was high enough to make the experience on a laptop enjoyable and is on par with what we’ve seen from other HD video streaming services available via a web browser. The audio sounded good too, in our headset, but we didn’t hook it up to a PC to check for Dolby Digital surround sound, but we’d be shocked if there was considering there was no mention of it on the site.
And while the lack of Dolby Digital Surround Sound may be a detractor for Home Theater enthusiast, don’t forget that HBO GO is not a replacement, but rather an extension of HBO, the Pay TV channel. And despite availability of an HBO iPhone app, HBO GO is not supported on mobile platforms. Yet. Those two nitpicks aside, by far the biggest knock has been what is available on HBO GO:
The biggest disappointment I found in the HBO Go was with the available content mix. The site claims 600 hours worth of content, including about 200 full-length movies, which is not a lot when you consider what other services make available. EPIX, a joint venture between Viacom, Paramount and MGM that also operates a cable-and-broadband service, has more than 300 titles available. And Netflix, which offers a hybrid DVD-by-mail and streaming service, has more than 17,000 titles available to its users.
So HBO is not about to cede cyberspace to Netflix. It’s in the process of rolling out an Internet service called HBO Go which will allow all HBO subscribers to get, as the executive puts it, “anything they want to see, anytime, anywhere, over their laptop, Iphone, tablet, Playstation.” Bolstered by its exclusive content, HBO will initially offer some 800 hours a month of programming a month. Its 40 million subscribers can get at no additional charge over the Internet the new titles HBO acquires through its output deals with Warner Bros, Fox, and Dreamworks, past and present original series, HBO boxing, and even so-called “late night” fare such as Alien Sex Files.
Interesting perspective and while HBO does have Warner Bros. watching its back, what’s to stop other studios from doing the same thing? Oh wait, Paramount is doing that with Epix. Disney is threatening: take its movies to its own online service. If you believe the internet, Sony is doing the same. Could Fox be far behind?
Dan Rayburn points out, speaking about HBO specifically, but can it be applied to any of these content companies, they “are not a web video company”. Will the majority of content owners follow Showtime and decide that Netflix, iTunes, and others aren’t so bad and save them some headaches. While Hulucination isn’t ready to crown a victor in a “streaming-movie war that isn’t quite taking place yet” there is a tug-of-war between the studios and distributers over the value of digital rights. The Home Entertainment studios see an untapped revenue stream and cable sees a way to hold value by increasing availability. Will it be a last stand for cable? You’ll have to wait and see. Happy viewing.