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Why HBO Now Is Struggling to Find Viewers

Cord cutters had begged HBO for years for a streaming version of the channel, but the final product had some strange strings attached.
February 10, 2016, 8:11pm

HBO Now currently has 800,000 subscribers, nearly a year after it first launched.

HBO parent company Time Warner revealed the figures for the streaming version of its premium cable network on Wednesday. In absolute terms that may sound impressive—800,000 streaming subscribers is better than zero streaming subscribers!—but it disappointed all-knowing Wall Street analysts who were expecting at least 1 million subs, and who see rival services like Netflix at 75 million subscribers.

"We're just getting started," said HBO CEO Richard Plepler in an earnings call, pushing back against analysts' characterization of "only" 800,000 subscribers. "I think we're going to make a lot of progress."

Perhaps, but I can think of at least one reason why the HBO Now subscriber number is a little on the low side: the service is still a little hard to sign up for.

Consider this: As of today, you still can't subscribe to HBO Now using a computer, nor can you watch using the PS4 (or PS3) or Xbox One (or Xbox 360). If the first limitation is curious annoyance—prospective HBO Now subscribers must sign up via a participating ISP or an Apple, Android, or Roku device or—then the second is downright silly, considering the large install bases of those video game consoles and their early role in getting everyday users comfortable with the idea of streaming video in the first place.

That all adds up to a service that doesn't quite live up to its billing as HBO-when-all-you-have-is-broadband. It's HBO for people with broadband—and for people who are willing to sign up where and when HBO deems fit. It just goes to show that for cord cutters, while things are better than they were just a few years ago, there's still plenty of hoops to jump through to get what you want without forking over a good chunk of your paycheck to the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.