HBO’s insistence on making a mess of its apps is irreparably hurting its brand

I feel like I am watching a train wreck in slow motion. As flames engulf the cars, I watch as the conductor uses gasoline to try and snuff the flames. Perplexed, yet horrified, all I can do is watch and ask myself, “Why?”

The folks pulling the HBO strings seem determined to cause as much confusion and brand damage as possible, despite my knowing that is absolutely the opposite of their intent. It’s truly baffling to me to see the actions the company has chosen to take here.

Just over a week ago, we expressed concerns surrounding the incredible confusion around the HBO Max rollout, finding different customers in circumstances using both HBO Now or HBO Go were having wildly different challenges with, and communications from, HBO. But beyond that, even those using the same app were going through disparate experiences. While some found the transition easy, with their app quickly and simply changing over to Max with few issues, others were either locked out of their experience entirely or allowed to continue using Max along with either Go or Now with no consequence.

In short, it has been neither a smooth or consistent experience for HBO’s customer base.

Today, HBO seems to have decided the public outcry may have been warranted and issued a statement that reads like an attempt to iron out the kinks. Instead, it feels even more tone-deaf to the problems its customers have been having. Here is its plan:

  • HBO Go will no longer exist, and HBO Max officially replaces it.
  • HBO Now will continue on as a service, but it will simply be renamed to “HBO.”

Though on the surface this sounds like a good move since it finally makes clear what is happening with the three apps, it fails to address the problems we’ve outlined, and many HBO fans will still be frustratingly locked out of the service.

After we published our disappointment with the HBO Max rollout, several readers wrote to us with their experiences with the platform. There are a lot, and they are varied. For example, if a customer purchased HBO Now through Amazon via the Amazon App Store, even if they download Max on a supported device like an iPad, they won’t get access to the content because the original sale came through Amazon, with whom HBO is still in dispute.

As part of HBO’s public statement today, it mentions that customers who struggle to access HBO Max due to outstanding and unresolved conflicts with distribution rights “will be able to continue to authenticate into hbogo.com through August 31st.” Its“fix” is to technically allow access to its content, but through the least convenient outlet it offers and only for only a limited time. My guess is that HBO is hoping or expecting to have all its licensing deals straightened out by then, and if it doesn’t, plan to lose that customer base. That’s not the best strategy, and certainly leaves a lot of room for disgruntled customers.

There exists another problem: At least on Apple devices, HBO Now doesn’t exist.

The App Store only has two HBO apps: Max and Go (and as previously mentioned, Go will cease to exist on July 31). In HBO’s statement today, it plans to move Now customers to the newly named HBO app “over the coming months.”

That’s a slow, plodding pace for a company that is swimming in bad press and inundated with upset users.

Its strategy here means that if your only option was to get content through HBO Now, but upgraded to Max when the app first rolled out, you won’t be able to get back to HBO Now for an indeterminate amount of time — up to a few months. That feels like it’s going to be met with some serious anger from long-time HBO fans.

There are solutions to many of the problems that HBO customers could be facing, but the point here is how confusing, convoluted, disjointed and frustrating this entire process has been for a large segment of what were once-happy HBO customers. We mentioned before that we felt this rollout was rushed, and these further scrambling attempts by HBO are doing little to change that opinion. This is easily the most broken service rollout we’ve seen yet, and even with HBO’s attempts to fix it today, things don’t look like they’re going to get any less confusing any time soon.

My fear is that HBO, which has been outstanding as a content production house, will see its brand irreversibly tarnished by what feels like AT&T’s decision making. That’s unfortunately not fair to HBO, but an unfortunate and likely unavoidable future.

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