Last Year: HBO Go Promises to Expand, Crashes
HBO GO was a victim of its own success in 2014, when the streaming video service (a free perk for subscribers, and their deadbeat friends and family members) crashed twice is as many months. First came the March 9 finale of True Detective, which drew 3.5 million viewers. That’s in terms of traditional ratings. HBO won’t say how many people were trying to watch online when the service went down, but it was a large enough spike to take down HBO GO. History repeated itself on April 6, when the season premiere of Game of Thrones attracted 6.6 million viewers, and once again knocked out the network’s online service.
Much of the media coverage of these crashes was fixated on the topics of cord cutters and shared passwords, with data-starved reporters speculating that password sharing was to blame. There’s no proof to either support or refute that theory, but the dual crashes did point out something interesing about the current media landscape. Netflix’s servers don’t buckle under the weight of binge-watching traffic when an entire season of Orange is the New Black is released. But those server loads are pretty evenly distributed throughout the first week or two. When you marry the traditional hype of a highly anticipated broadcast time slot with streaming video options, it turns out that even the cord cutters and password moochers are anxious to watch some shows ASAP. No matter how new the services and consumption models are, sometimes the old rules still apply.
Or, there’s the more straightforward lesson: People really are watching stuff online, in numbers large enough to surprise and overwhelm the richest of premium cable networks.
This Year: Streaming Is Stealing The Show
Though HBO is once again stealing much of the spotlight, with its detail-light promise of launching a separate, online-only service sometime this year, some of the biggest buzz in entertainment involves other streaming video providers. Amazon’s critically-acclaimed original series Transparent was the first online show to win a Golden Globe for best series (it also landed a best actor award, for Jeffrey Tambor’s performance as a trans woman). Netflix, meanwhile, is preparing to release a raft of highly-anticipated shows based on Marvel Comics characters, and both Sony and Microsoft are bringing fan-favorite properties — an adaptation of the comic Powers, and a show set in the Halo video game universe, respectively — to subscribers of their online networks. Granted, most of this streaming-only programming skews young and nerdy, but that’s also the most coveted and profitable demographic in TV.