updated 07:04 pm EDT, Thu June 20, 2013
Combination of issues highlights complications of digital TV
Though Apple has only just added HBO Go to the lineup of its Apple TV set-top box, the reason for the long delay come from various factors outside Apple's control rather, according to various reports put together by AppleInsider. HBO itself -- along with Apple -- were focused on getting the network's content onto iPhones and iPads as a priority, with the Apple TV "app" becoming HBO's first-ever all in-house software project. On top of that, affiliates such as Comcast are often hesitate to allow subscribers access to the mobile versions.
HBO has said that prior to the HBO Go version for Apple TV, it had previous just used third-party contractors to build its apps, but the new addition to Apple TV's lineup was entirely designed and written by in-house staff, which added time to the process. HBO has spent years optimizing the compression algorithms for its encoded media so that it plays well on a wide variety of web connections. The company's Chief Technology Officer, Otto Berkes, has said that the speed of improvements will increase going forward, and that HBO will continue to match other streaming-video rivals such as Netflix.
Another issue is the cable companies themselves, which have veto power over whether or not their subscribers can access HBO Go services. Though only existing HBO subscribers are allowed to use HBO Go, not every cable company authenticates every mobile app or set-top box, resulting in some users who are denied mobile or Apple TV use of HBO Go and similar services.
Comcast, for example, blocks its users from using HBO Go on the Roku, while Charter Communications customers can't have it on their Apple TVs. DirectTV only authenticated Apple TV's additions hours after Apple's announcement, and Dish continues to block ESPN users though it does authenticate HBO Go on Apple TV. The reason some cable companies approve or disapprove authentication for some devices can be due to a number of possible issues, ranging from problems with a specific device or manufacturer to an overall fear that continuing migration of their subscribers to mobile and set-top devices could end up meaning losses for them if, for example, HBO Go were to ever drop the "subscriber" requirement and just charge a fee directly, such as the way the BBC's global version of the iPlayer does.
For the time being, however, HBO and other services continue to require that mobile or set-top device users already have an existing subscription to a cable provider in order to access its other offerings. The analogy is akin to a print magazine subscriber receiving the digital e-magazine for free as part of the original subscription.
However, the day is coming -- fostered by "cable cutters" who sever their relationship with cable providers entirely, usually over the high cost and selective quality of offerings -- that HBO and others will have to offer services like HBO Go directly to consumers. Such moves will hasten the collapse of the cable provider model, particularly given the rise of Apple's AirPlay technology and services similar to it -- and the cable providers are well aware of this, having seen it already happen in the home-telephone business.