HBO Nordic Underwhelms Early Adopters

    Last fall when HBO announced they were coming to the Nordics with a streaming service, the world was clearly jealous. We became the first region to get access to real on-demand content from HBO without being tied to a cable subscription package, providing a convenient way to access new and old HBO TV shows, movies, and documentaries. But after a shaky launch this December, is anyone really excited about it anymore?

    For a little bit of a backstory, HBO’s August launch announcement was made within a day after Netfix’s announcement they were going after the Nordics. There HBO claimed they would would be be live in mid October – clearly before Netflix’s launch date. When mid-October came around it became clear the launch was delayed, which was somewhat expected, and the final product in mid-December still seemed to be a rush job.

    A list of complaints include HD content is (was?) only available on Samsung Smart TVs, meaning you were only given SD quality when streaming through your computer or any other device. Same goes for surround sound and 5.1, which are only available through the Samsung TV app. Other complaints I’ve heard includes buffering problems with the Widevine plugin (at standard definition), and lack of Apple Airplay support. The product is available as iOS and Android apps, but Xbox and Playstation apps are still said to be under development.

    The online UI is nice to look at but was poorly designed; initially HBO only allowed you to search for TV shows by alphabetical letter. The results were underwhelming and exaggerated how little content HBO was offering. For example, J, N, Q, V and X had no titles listed, which was an disappointing experience for content discovery.

    But last night they seemed to have removed their alphabetical list and now only show a big list of their TV titles, which I suppose is better. It should be noted that you’re not given access to the full back catalogue, several classics are not available such as Deadwood and Oz, which apparently have some copyright restrictions.

    HBO streaming runs €9.95 (compared to Netflix’s €7.99/mo), which isn’t a bad price point for a quality (albeit small) lineup of titles and movies. But be sure to read the terms and conditions before whipping out the plastic. You’re locked into a 12 month contract with a three month notice period for canceling, which isn’t too encouraging for a service shaky enough that you wonder if they know what they’re doing. In Finland Sonera IPTV customers can to order on a monthly basis for €14.95/month, which is a high premium for the risk-adverse. Or you could just order Netflix, which you can cancel at any time.

    If you want to give HBO streaming a shot, I suppose now’s the time to do it. If you sign up for their newsletter you’re given an access code that lets you trial and cancel the service until January 31. But for myself, it’s a disappointing container for some great content.