The premium cable channel HBO’s motto for its new streaming service for cord cutters, HBO Now, seems to be, “All you need is the internet” (video). Which is interesting, because HBO is many things, but it is decidedly not an internet company. And it’s making sure you know that.
Peter Kafka of Re/code noticed that HBO set up a “help center” to answer questions about the service. In an entry that now appears to be deleted, HBO answered the question, “Why does HBO Now frequently pause to buffer during video playback at night, but not during the day?” with the following response, per Re/code (emphasis our own):
If you notice consistently different playback performance at different times of day, it may be a sign of the usage patterns of other people connected to your broadband provider or to HBO Now. Some times of day and days of the week are more popular than others for watching video on HBO Now and other streaming video services. Contact your broadband provider if you continue to experience frequent issues at certain times of day. If you have consistent problems with particular HBO Now videos, please contact HBO’s customer support.
The future of TV, while fascinating and inventive, also looks rather glitchy. That’s why HBO outsourced the streaming technology behind HBO Now to MLB Advanced Media, which is widely regarded as the best in the business at providing high-quality streaming video.
The real test comes Sunday night, when the fifth season of HBO’s wildly popular series Game of Thrones premieres. HBO Go, the internet version of HBO provided to subscribers to the pay TV channel, is notorious for crashing during high-profile events, such as last year’s season finale of True Detective. Just last week, Dish’s streaming TV service Sling TV had problems with the high volume of people trying to simultaneously stream the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on TBS.
HBO also isn’t handling billing for HBO Now—it doesn’t offer subscriptions directly, and it’s unclear whether it ever will.
It’s probably not laziness on HBO’s part when it directs customers to other companies to solve service or billing problems. HBO specifically developed HBO Now so that it wouldn’t have to deal with those issues, just as it isn’t responsible for them when someone buys HBO through a cable provider.
Launching an internet-only streaming service comes with a lot of hurdles, especially for a company new to the space like HBO. It probably needs all the customer service help it can get.