HBO Go's Crash Signals A New Wrinkle In Our Online Viewing Habits

We’re at the point where online viewing is creating its own branch of sociology. 

Netflix and “House of Cards” didn’t invent binge viewing, but made it a talk-about trend. Likewise, Sunday’s HBO Go outage Sunday that prevented many users from streaming the final episode of “True Detective” seems to have been a first, too—the first time that live streaming an episode of a TV program crashed from over-use.

I’m prepared for some asterisks on that. It turns out ABC’s live stream of this year’s Oscars curled up and died on apps used by viewers in markets where ABC owns stations, like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.  But one expects to watch a live event live.

Whatever historical mark “True Detective” represents, it did prove that very large boatloads of viewers use the HBO online service, which obviously was already a known fact.   But as Joel Espelien from TDG Group opined, the other major takeaway is that people who could have watched the finale on their television set instead chose to watch it on another device.

He writes, “Put another way, rather than watch the finale on regular pay-TV like they were supposed to, viewers fired up their HBO Go app instead. “

(Alternatively, Salon’s Lily Hay Newman is one of the onlookers who wonders if HBO’s real mistake is underestimating the number of people who are “sharing” someone else’s password to access to HBO Go.  Salon’s treatment includes a Twitter message from that night that reads, “Wow @HBOGO is down and I'm trying to watch True Detective. SOMEONE WHO OWNS THE ACCOUNT I USE PAID GOOD MONEY FOR THIS SERVICE.” )

Espelien predicts “True Detective” is a tipping point. Whereas online viewers have been accustomed to going to Netfilx and Hulu and more to catch up to the programs they’ve missed or catch-up on episodes, the new mode might be that millions now see their online apps equal to what they can get elsewhere. Both can be “live” experiences and HBO was caught flat-footed when a crush of humanity logged on instead of just tuning in.

I always suspect the hidden hand of marketing, too.

Reed Hastings has seemed to talk a big game about Netflix’s popularity; now, in one, well-publicized mishap, HBO can boast its programs are so popular that its own app can’t handle the overwhelming demand. I don’t believe that’s what happened, but let’s just say I was using my imagination, finding the positive side of failure. Like Rahm Emanuel says, never let a crisis go to waste.   

Espelien doesn’t go as far as my wack musing. But he also notes: “The real lesson is that last night HBO was a victim of its own success. The HBO Go app has become so good that it has actually surpassed the traditional pay-TV experience and is rapidly becoming the first-choice viewing experience for many subscribers…. Last night, the success of HBO Go came back to bite HBO in the ass.”

He predicts that “True Detective” might be the first indication that the idea of using Internet-delivered online services as a shelf for things you mean to get around to watching someday is instead becoming the go-to place much faster and more unexpectedly than the biz may have been ready to handle. That’s what seemed to have happened a couple days ago.

 pj@mediapost.com  

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2 comments about " HBO Go's Crash Signals A New Wrinkle In Our Online Viewing Habits".
  1. J S from Ideal Living Media , March 12, 2014 at 4:18 p.m.
    Heads up, Les Moonves. I don't know, but this Internet thing... it could turn into a big deal.
  2. Michael Greeson from TDG , March 12, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.
    'Sharing' is indeed a problem, with TDG's research finding that as many as 20% of Netflix users are 'borrowing' an account from a friend or relative.