Friday, January 29, 2016

Streaming Showcase: HBO Now

Here's the thing you have to remember about HBO Now: It's really freakin' expensive. 15 bucks a month may not sound like much, especially if you are already used to paying your cable company for HBO, but that's 50% more than the highest-priced of the other streaming options. Even Showtime Anytime is available for 11 bucks a month or 9 as an add-on to Amazon Prime or Hulu.

So when we consider HBO's value, we have to consider it's charging a super premium. Yeah, yeah, it's not TV, it's HBO, right? Well, no kidding. I don't pay so much for regular ol' TV.

If you are into what HBO offers and don't want to pay for a digital cable subscription, digital box, etc., just to get "Game of Thrones," then I'm sure it's worth it, and you must be elated that HBO Now exists. For many, I suspect it's more of a month-to-month thing. Like any subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, it has to keep cranking out must-see programming to get people to keep re-upping...or just hope people are too lazy to cancel. That often works, too!

Content aside, HBO Now is a decent service. It has "resume watching." It's smooth, and other than the annoying feature of the HBO logo coming up each time before the actual selection begins, programming starts quickly. There is closed captioning for everything. When I had my free month, I experienced few if any technical difficulties, and overall the channel impressed me with its streaming quality and consistency.

There is a watchlist--a must for any paid streaming service--but it doesn't seem to work that well on Roku. I couldn't see more than 15 titles at any one time, but when I removed something from those 15, something else--presumably 16--moved in so I could see it. Obviously that makes it much less useful in practice. It would be nice to have more options as far as adding series to a watchlist, and that might free up titles for the actual queue they do provide, but this is probably my biggest quibble about the organization of HBO Now.

Content is king, and HBO doesn't give you everything it ever did--don't look for 1990s hits like "Dream On" and "Mr. Show," let alone stuff from the early days like "First and Ten" and "Not Necessarily the News"--but you do get complete runs of most of the notable shows HBO has produced in its modern era. In addition, you get a big back catalog of comedy specials and documentaries, along with a rotating array of movies.

The movies will be a big draw for those disillusioned with the steady drop-off of theatrical hits from Netflix. HBO still has deals with major studios like Warner, Fox, and Universal, and that gives its lineup a lot of juice. Basically, if it's on HBO, it'll be on HBO Now, and likely it'll be there quickly and will stay for a while. One great thing about HBO Now is that it provided expiration dates on its titles so you know exactly how long you have to watch something.  That kind of transparency is a great asset for the customer and a nice contrast to the mystery Netflix tries to preserve.

One thing you don't get with HBO Now is live HBO, so you will have to wait a day or two for live specials like the HBO Boxing events, but you  will be able to see them. Other than that, I don't see a huge disadvantage to not getting the live stream as long as everything is on demand.

So is HBO Now worth it? It does what it does very well--so well, in fact, that Netflix is currently copying it, undergoing a massive shift  from library content to original programming.  Netflix is still by far the better deal. It has so much material for so much less per month that it's easy to get value each month even if you aren't following all of its new shows.

However, there is a lot of great stuff on HBO. I know I would be tempted to get it for "Veep" and "Silicon Valley" alone, plus I'd love to do big "Sopranos" or "The Wire" rewatches someday. Right now. I don't think I have to tell you much about HBO programming, but if you love HBO programming, you will be satisfied by HBO Now. I don't have this channel, but it's only because I don't want to pay 15 bucks a month for it. This grade is based in large part on that high price.

Grade for HBO Now: B

No comments: