HBO Is Facing an OTT Stress Test

HBO went over-the-top last week, just ahead of the much-anticipated season five premiere of Game of Thrones on April 12, with a big question hanging over its head — will its new broadband-fed offerings stand up to the stress?

The OTT-viewing public will know for sure soon enough, but it was evident last week that some of HBO’s partners were taking necessary precautions.

Sling TV, Dish Network’s new OTT service tailored for cord-cutters, added HBO to its bundle last Thursday (April 9) for $15 per month, on top of its core $20 per month offering. In addition to providing access to HBO’s on-demand library, Sling TV’s offering also provides each subscriber with up to three streams of HBO content.

Ahead of Sunday’s GoT premiere, Sling TV implemented an upgrade designed to ensure the service wouldn’t buckle under anticipated streaming demand. Those enhancements, which involved a reduction in overhead and server load, came into play after the service struggled during the semifinal matchups of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

HBO Now, the premium programmer’s new standalone service initially offered through Apple and Cablevision Systems’s broadband service for $14.99 per month, was also expected to face a similar stress test on Sunday night. While HBO Now doesn’t feature a linear live stream of HBO, subscribers were expected to flock to it and to TV everywhere platform HBO Go on Sunday night to watch the new episode of Game of Thrones on an on-demand basis.

HBO, meanwhile, has been preparing for this day, as well. Ahead of the launch of HBO Now, the programmer confirmed it was working with MLB Advanced Media, while still leaning on its internal technology group to lead its OTT efforts.

HBO’s work with MLBAM makes the programmer “well-positioned” to handle the demand of the new OTT offering, Colin Dixon, chief analyst and founder of nScreenMedia, said, adding, “They [MLBAM] are probably one of the most experienced companies out there doing this today.”

Still, HBO Now, Sling TV and other OTT providers will continue to face challenges since they are delivering content over “best-effort” broadband connections they don’t fully control. Buffering, disconnects and other performance- related issues can leave a bad taste in the mouth of some viewers.

“It’s once bitten, twice shy,” Dixon said. If consumers face performance issues too often from an OTT service, “it will take a long time for them to trust it again.”