Streaming TV Isn't Ready for Prime Time

Illustration for article titled Streaming TV Isn't Ready for Prime Time

So you've done it. You've cut the cord. You've got your Netflix and your Hulu Plus and your Aereo and your cousin's HBO GO password and a bag of popcorn. You're comfortable with the sacrifices—honestly, mostly just ESPN—and prepared to embrace the glorious future of television. Only problem? The future of television's not prepared for you.


Last night, HBO Go collapsed under the weight of True Detective fans scrambling to catch the show's finale. It was frustrating for viewers, and embarrassing for a network that has built a reputation as a leader in the streaming space. Instead of [SPOILER], subscribers and their mooching friends were treated to at least three hours of Failed to load the service.

It would be one thing if this were an isolated incident; we all have bad nights. But it comes on the heels of a similar meltdown for Aereo and ABC during the Oscars just a week prior. Likewise January's Golden Globes. As QZ pointed out at the time, the crush of streaming Oscars fans didn't even include subscribers to three of the nation's four largest cable subscribers.

What's our takeaway, other than a lot of shouting at screens and some delayed gratification? That the demand for streaming TV has officially outpaced streaming TV's ability to deliver. And frankly, there's no reason to expect that to change any time soon.

While services and products like Aereo and Roku are hustling to meet the growing demand of an audience of cord-cutters, content creators are dragging their feet. In their ideal world, you'd continue watching their shows on broadcast television, where they have the most lucrative advertising and licensing deals in place. No wonder, then, that the streaming experience is threadbare, ready to tear apart at the slightest hint of pressure.

It's especially telling when you compare HBO's lack of True Detective preparedness to the rock-solid experience Netflix provided for its second season of House of Cards. Yes, True Detective was appointment television last night. But Netflix and HBO go have roughly the same number of subscribers, and Netflix was unloading an entire 13-episode season instead of just one hour. It's not an apples to apples comparison, but it's telling that Netflix, which depends entirely on streaming for its revenues, held up, while subscription-powered HBO did not.


The problems here are infrastructural, a lack of investment in and anticipation of the online viewing experience. And the more people transition from cable boxes to Rokus and Apple TVs, the worse it will get. It's a reminder that our wanting something to happen doesn't obligate networks to provide it for you, at least not at any kind of scale. And frankly, the more fed up you are with a digital viewing life, the more likely you are to go crawling back to the old model.

All of which means that the future of TV right now well-appointed place setting, a meal long ago ordered, and nothing on the plate. It could end up being delicious, if only the cooks had their hearts in it.




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