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HBO Go site offers online video -- to existing subscribers only

Today, HBO launched a site that shows the same lack of initiative as its past ventures into online video.


Its new HBO Go site touts itself as "HBO on your computer" but only offers access to a subset of the Time Warner subsidiary's programming -- and only to a subset of its current subscribers.

That's right: Instead of simply letting online viewers pay directly for a Web subscription, HBO requires that they first pay $16 or so a month for a subscription via a traditional TV service. And since it's apparently too complicated to build in authentication for every cable, satellite and fiber-optic TV provider that offers HBO, HBO Go accepts only Comcast or Verizon Fios viewers. The latter contingent can't log into the site until tomorrow, although its login prompt makes no mention of that hang-up.

A Multichannel News story quotes HBO Co-President Eric Kessler calling this site "more about subscriber retention" and "affiliate friendly." In other words, HBO set up this site to protect its existing model instead of taking advantage of the Internet's efficient distribution to expand its business -- you know, what most competent, consumer-focused operations might want to do in this situation.

Since my switch to over-the-air broadcasts means I don't pay for TV at all, let alone HBO, I can't report on the quality of HBO Go's streaming video. (For details about that, see Erick Schonfeld's write-up for TechCrunch.)

I can, however, confirm that HBO Go's selection looks mediocre. It offers only 14 of HBO's original series -- a thin catalogue that leaves out "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage" and "Flight of the Conchords."

The site's inventory of 209 movies is better, but many of those are older releases you could watch on other streaming and download services that actually welcome new customers.

To add to the aggravation factor, HBO Go -- not just its videos, but pretty much its entire interface -- is done up in Adobe Flash. That makes the site more sluggish than necessary on regular computers and renders it completely inaccessible on almost all phones.

Maybe this site will get better over time, just as HBO has improved its initially weak selection on Apple's iTunes Store. We can only hope so... In the meantime, if you pay for HBO and can log into HBO Go, please share your review of the site in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 17, 2010; 10:36 AM ET
Categories:  TV , Video  
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I'm an HBO subscriber through Comcast, so I thought I'd take a look at HBO Go. Comcast subscribers are re-directed to Comcast's own Fancast site to see HBO shows. Fancast has some stuff that doesn't seem to be listed on the HBO Go site, but it doesn't have some of the content that is on HBO's site.

Posted by: jcflack1 | February 17, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

The new Flash-heavy HBO home page interface is generally more time-consuming and less functional than its HTML-based predecessor. I used to just be able to click on a bookmarked link to download the monthly schedule PDF, but HBO seems to abide by the maxim that if it ain't broke, fix it.

The TechCrunch post sez they have HD video on their site. I wonder if I can view (its admittedly limited selection of) HD on my HD PC rather than having to pay Comcast more money to get HD cable boxes? Weekend project...

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | February 17, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm a FIOS subscriber with HBO. If I didn't read your posts....I would never know about this feature. Gonna try it

Posted by: tbva | February 18, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Hopped in just now, and really the selection is identical to what's available for viewing from whatever they already offer "On Demand" already on my TV. Why would I watch it on my computer when I can watch the exact same selection on TV?

Posted by: hobbes9 | February 18, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

As I Verizon FIOS subscriber, I've had HBO now for several years. The limited On Demand menu of series didn't feature The Wire, which I recently began watching via either Netflix or iTunes downloads. Now, I can watch the remaining episodes on HBO Go for nothing. I just have to sign in using my Verizon online login and password.

I can understand HBO not making all its series available for online watching or purchase -- it undercuts the partners in their distribution channel (cable operators who sell HBO ) that depend on selling premium channels to their subscribers.

As for the use of Flash: Works fine on my computer, not slow at all. But it won't be of any use on my phone. Maybe we'll all get lucky and Flash will die a natural death soon. Fingers crossed.

One question: What's to keep current subscribers from handing out their login and password to friends and relations who don't have HBO? Seems like a good way for HBO to lose potential customers.

Posted by: BeverlyC2 | February 18, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

@54Stratocaster: That would be one way in which this site (and, for that matter, Comcast's Fancast site) could save you money.

@BeverlyC2: E-mail me your login and password and I'll report back on the results :)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | February 18, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I realize that Time-Warner/HBO is in the process of splitting off Time-Warner Cable, but do you think that they would at least include Time-Warner Cable in the initial cable systems?

Is Time-Warner mad at Time-Warner?

Posted by: blasher | February 18, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Hobbes9: thanks for the info. If the selection is the same as on demand HBO...I would rather watch on my big TV instead of my computer screen. We frequently use the HBO on demand feature to catch movies I forgot to record on the FIOS machine.

Posted by: tbva | February 18, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I logged in yesterday and started watching Bored to Death (great series, BTW) just to see it work. That was on my PC at work with Explorer (my ad blocker keeps the site from even showing up in Firefox). Looked great! Haven't tried it on my Mac at home, but I think my son watched some yesterday on his.

Two people can't be logged in at once. While my son can access it from college in NC, he can't if I'm logged on and vice versa.

This is unlike our Netflix/Tivo HD Watch it Instantly, which keeps identical folders of streaming video on my Tivo HD at home and my son's in NC.

Also.. doesn't this all run contrary to what Rob said about Fios subs having to wait for access until tomorrow? I logged in yesterday.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 18, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely typical American greedy mismanagement. No matter how many IBMs go broke switching to a proprietary bus, no matter how many proprietary media players deliberately exclude other vendor's formats, no matter how many times ARC becomes ZIP because the vendor copyrights the file extension, no matter how many OEMs are strongarmed into paying for windows when they install Linux, and no matter how many times the user community says "Well, F*CK you; another overpaid, peter-unprincipled suit will STILL tell their CEO: "Gee boss, even though putting customers first made us filthy rich, we can make even MORE money by forcing the users to do what's good for US instead of allowing them do what's good for THEM!"

...And Bill Gates has the nerve to ask "How come everybody hates Microsoft??"

--faye kane, homeless brain
Read more of my smartmouth opinions at

Posted by: Knee_Cheese_Zarathustra | February 18, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

54Stratocaster - drop me an email
regarding your name - thxs

Posted by: msdragon | February 18, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I'll echo jcflack1's complaint, all HBO Go does for me is redirect to Comcast's site. I honestly can't decide which one has a worse web design. No thanks, guys, I'll stick with netflix and my DVR for HBO content.

Posted by: misere | February 18, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Since HBO doesn't want my business, all I can say is Thank Goodness for Megavideo, Ninjavideo, and all the other services that provide the same product for nothing! They aren't as reliable of convenient, but I generally get what I want to see.

Posted by: AlibiFarmer | February 19, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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