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Cable Technology Feature Article

March 11, 2014

True Detective's True Failure: Is it Time for HBO GO to Restrict Access?

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

A few weeks back, HBO CEO Richard Pleper essentially said that it doesn’t bother the premium network at all that subscribers are sharing their passwords with non-account holders for the HBO GO service, which is the network’s TV Everywhere offering giving access to on-demand content on mobile and digital devices. But in light of Sunday’s Website crash during the True Detective finale, he may want to reconsider.

True Detective, HBO’s hotter-than-hot Southern gothic crime drama starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, came to its bombastic conclusion last weekend. Millions of viewers tuned in—Nielsen numbers aren’t in yet but the series was averaging 10.9 million viewers per week—to see the end of the story arc, which is a self-contained story line. Like American Horror Story on FX, each season is set up to be its own capsule. For season 2, it will move on to new characters and actors.

So, viewers weren’t just waiting to see what the conclusion would be for the plot—a dark affair revolving around ritualized child and female abuse, meth-cooking, ventures into the “psychosphere” and everyday law enforcement officers’ personal demons—but also to say goodbye to the popular leads.

HBO was quick to issue a statement: “Due to overwhelming interest in the season finale of True Detective, HBO GO was hit with an excessive amount of traffic soon after 9 pm ET last night. The issue has since been rectified and the service is now back to normal.”

The premium cable network also sent a follow-up tweet assuring users that “the issues affecting HBO GO last night have been resolved.”

Because HBO GO is an add-on to an existing household TV subscription, which is always tied to a cable, satellite or IPTV (News - Alert) package, GO is not a money-maker for the channel; rather, it’s been used as more of a customer loyalty tool. The hook is that it offers anytime access to pretty much every episode of every HBO show ever made, plus documentaries and movies.

"HBO GO is value-added - what you want to watch,” Pleper said. “Right now, that's the right model for us. Are we always thinking about optionality, of course we are always thinking about optionality... if the arithmetic changes and made sense in a different way, we are not going to be caught without the ability to pivot."

So, unlike Netflix, HBO doesn’t put limits around how many people can stream the content from an account at any given time. But clearly, it may want to consider some strictures or management for the service for popular events, to avoid drawing customer ire.

As Andrew Sims at Hypable brought up: “There’s one glaring issue that was made clear: People who subscribe to HBO are screwed when GO crashes because those who are leeching off of their friends’ accounts are bringing the servers to a screeching halt … HBO should at least set up a couple of rules for GO as they move forward. For example, there should be a rule that only two people can be logged into an account simultaneously. This will help control the number of people who are using GO at any given time, and HBO can design their server capacity to ensure a crash won’t happen.”

We’ll see if the company listens.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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