How to Solve the HBO GO Problem


I haven’t paid for cable television in 5 years. I haven’t even owned a television in that same time frame. But I still watch TV programming on my laptop. There’s Netflix, Hulu, and a dozen other websites where I can access–show by show–every second of humor, drama, and adventure that cable television promises. All this without paying the ridiculous monthly fees for the brain-draining trashy programming that accompanies it.

HBO has been my favorite channel as long as I can remember. Back in February of 2010, when Ben Parr noted that HBO would be testing their own online video streaming service, I was thrilled. Yet when it launched, I found it to be disappointing. It required you to have a paid cable subscription to access any of the content. So I had to resort to the tride and true methods of gathering content: illegal downloading and streaming.

I’ve been shouting from the mountaintops for over two years now that HBO would be a bold innovator and champion of internet by making their online service, HBO GO,  a standalone product. MG Siegler shared the same sentiment at the end of last year, and his words nearly echoed mine verbatim:

I’d gladly pay you upwards of $19.99 a month for direct access to HBO Go without a cable subscription. Netflix charges $7.99 a month for their streaming service right now, but thanks to your original programming, you’re worth a lot more. But Netflix original programming is coming soon, so your premium buffer won’t last forever. The time to strike is now.

Now that the Game of Thrones (that GoT is so hot right now) is building a dedicated cult following, HBO is starting to face a serious problem that will only get worse as this demographic grows. They are mainly young, tech-oriented, and most importantly, cable-free individuals who simply don’t understand the point of paying $200 a month for a TV box when everything they’ve ever enjoyed has been found online, mostly for free.

It’s virtually impossible to view the current season online without pirating the content illegally or being tied down to the cable cord. As explained oh so eloquently in this epic The Oatmeal post, HBO is basically cannibalizing its audience by ignoring the situation at hand and tethering themselves to the cable companies for revenue.

Andy Greenberg and Erik Kain over at Forbes have claimed that Game of Thrones is on track to become the most pirated television show in history, and HBO is the only party to blame.

So why is HBO being so obtuse?

Gabriel Rossman at the The Atlantic explains that it’s a practical stance more than anything else right now. HBO suffers from two ailments: obligation and laziness. Allow me to explain:

  1. Laziness: “HBO claims that (a) people aren’t interested in a la carte HBO Go and (b) the transaction costs are too high to do their own billing, etc. The technical term for these explanations is “bullshit.””
  2. Obligation: Cable’s ubiquitous “bundling packages” of basic + premium channels are a cash cow. While HBO would make a killing as an a la carte product, it would completely devastate smaller niche cable channels like “CNN, Cartoon Network, and most of the cable networks starting with the letter “T.”…So basically, we can call this the HBO has to take one for the team model.”

HBO is used to be considered the innovator and early adopter of the entertainment world. Indeed, I still believe that to be true. But until they face facts that the old models of this industry are being profoundly disrupted (SEE: a decade ago with digital music), they will only tarnish that image. The legal action taken by the entertainment community to curb the digital revolution will only force us to create workarounds to a problem that only can be be solved through bold innovation. But I digress…

Now that we know HBO doesn’t care about doing anything for you and your cord-cutting ways, what should we do? They believe that as the recession rolls over, we will all merrily go back to our cable package purchasing ways. The truth of the matter, which they will sadly accept all too late, is that we won’t.  We’d gladly pay you for your content directly, but all we can do right now is find workarounds and not give you a shilling.

My workaround to HBO GO that doesn’t involve illegal downloading, but relies on a few circumstantial keys to success.

Step 1: Call your parents (grandparents even).

Chances are, when you go home to visit them, they have cable  + HBO in all its glory. I’ve spent countless nights drilling through entire seasons with HBO on Demand during winter holidays. With on demand content, they likely have no need for HBO GO, even though it comes free with every subscription. And since every every major cable provider offers it these days, it’s ripe to be picked.

Step2: Get their login information & Go to HBOGO.com.

Step 3: Sign in. Enjoy. You’re welcome.

Note: HBO GO only works on one device at a time, per subscription, so if you have to compete with siblings/friends on watching your favorite content, try to find another source, one that follows along the same circumstances as the one I proposed above.

And yes, if you don’t have a benefactor with an HBO subscription, this will not help much. But at least you’ve gained some better insight into the dilemma-at-hand, and will appreciate the opportunity more if (gods old and new help us all) HBO finally decides to step up and open its online content to the masses.

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