This morning I was surprised to hear that HBO GO was launching April 1st on the Xbox. According to our friends at Engadget HD, HBO President Eric Kessler made the declaration last night. April 1st is also the day that season 2 of Game of Thrones premieres on HBO. I reached out to HBO this morning to confirm the date. It seemed odd they would launch the Xbox version of HBO GO version on the same day as a highly anticipated series premiere (and it’s April Fool’s Day).
To put it in context, 66 million Xbox consoles have been sold according to Microsoft. Not all of them are on US cable and satellite systems that support HBO GO or belong to the 28 million folks who subscribe to HBO. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of customers will gain access to HBO GO via their Xboxes with the launch.
Most of my career, I’ve planned and executed IT projects. One lesson I’ve learned rolling out software and systems is to do everything you can to mitigate launch risks. Thoroughly test the product. Do everything you can to simulate real world conditions. Roll out when it’s slow instead of the big sales day. Given the hiccups during the last Xbox Dashboard update, I wouldn’t be surprised if some technical snafus come up. For HBO GO to work right, a number of different systems need to interoperate: the content distribution network, Xbox Live, the broadband network to the home, the cable provider’s authentication system as well as the infrastructure in the home including the Xbox itself. By the way, Microsoft has a helpful web page that shows the status of Xbox Live and its apps.
Even if everything goes right on the technical end, that doesn’t account for your customers. Yes, some customers will have problems installing the HBO GO app. Maybe they’ll will forget to plug their XBox into the Internet. More likely, customers won’t remember their user name and password for their cable system. This is required to verify their HBO subscription (or any other TV Everywhere offering). And then there’s the folks who won’t understand why their cable system doesn’t support HBO GO (e.g. DirecTV for the Roku and Time Warner for all TV-connected devices). Regardless of the cause, it would stress customer support on a Sunday.
Yes, customers could just watch it through their dumb cable boxes. But isn’t the whole point of HBO GO is to provide a better experience? Furthermore, this is the first impression a number of your customers will have with HBO GO on the biggest screen in the house.
To HBO’s credit, they responded that their goal is to launch a few days early with April 1st as a deadline. Furthermore, the Xbox client will support HD (720p) and stereo sound. Dolby Digtial Plus for surround sound will be added in a later release. For the time being, select Samsung Smart TVs are the only way to get Dolby Digital Plus with HBO GO. See you in King’s Landing.
Update: HBO just announced that HBO GO on the Xbox is launching today, March 27th. I love it when a plan comes together. Well, except if you’re a Comcast or Time Warner customer. Here’s a preview of HBO GO on the Xbox: