HBO Nordic
Before you get too excited about HBO's web expansion

14 Aug 2014 | Rasmus Larsen |

Wall Street Journal reports that HBO is planning to expand its “web-TV” service internationally - no cable TV subscription required. But before you get too excited about HBO’s plans, you might want to know how HBO has fared so far in the Nordic; the first region to get the service.

First two years with HBO Nordic

For years, Americans have urged HBO to launch an online-only service for non cable-tv subscribers. HBO did just that in the four Nordic countries in November 2012. However, it was not based on the HBO Go software, but instead a different and new platform. I happen to be Danish so here is what you should know.

From the outside, HBO’s launch seemed rushed. Shortly after Netflix announced its Nordic launch plans, HBO sent out a press release. We heard that HBO wanted to use the Nordic as a “test market” to try competing with Netflix. You can underline that. Netflix and HBO launched almost simultaneously, but 20 months after the launch HBO reportedly has just 380.000 customers in the four Nordic countries. Netflix has 2.14 million.

But why?

HBO needs to work harder

HBO wanted customers to commit to a 12 month contrast, boldly arguing “We are HBO…. People know what they get”. In the last minute, HBO changed stance and launched with a price of 10 Euro - same price as Netflix - with no trial month and a 6 month contract. That did not resonate with consumers, and HBO scrambled to change things again. First, they introduced a trial month, later they introduced a tier with a higher price without a 6 month contract, and only recently they completely removed the 6 month contract. Now you can cancel your subscription at any time.

That’s it - nothing else after 20 months
At launch, HBO only supported iPhone/iPad (no Airplay), a few Android devices, PC/Mac, Samsung Smart TVs (app came in January) and a few 2012 Samsung Blu-ray players (no 2013 & 2014 players). That’s it. HBO promised to bring an app to Xbox 360, and was “looking into” devices such as PlayStation and Apple TV. One year later, they released the app for Xbox 360. That’s it - nothing else after 20 months.

IF you are lucky enough to own one of the few devices that actually runs HBO, you have too endure low picture quality and oftentimes choppy video playback. You can only get 1080p on your Samsung Smart TV.

All that can obviously change, but HBO is in no position to compete with Netflix at the moment. HBO has world-class content, but that it not enough. HBO has no CDN (content delivery network), HBO has extremely poor platform support, bad video streaming, no play/resume function, and moves at snail pace.

But at least HBO has learned some valuable lessons. Let us hope that HBO has some grander plans for its software platform before they expand internationally.

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