Against streaming apps
Posted by ekr on 18 May 2021
So, we wanted to subscribe to HBO Max to watch some stuff. Simple enough, go to the HBO Max Web site, make an account, give them your money, etc. Except that I have an LG TV and it turns out that HBO Max doesn't have an app for WebOS, apparently because they have some exclusive deal with Samsung. No problem, then, you can watch HBO Max through Hulu, so I sign up through Hulu, and was happily watching stuff, until we discovered that even though HBO Max has all the Studio Ghibli films, they're not available through Hulu, but only through the HBO Max App. At the end of the day I had to haul out my Fire TV and download the HBO Max app onto that. Which would be fine, I guess, except that the app just crashes randomly while I'm watching stuff, which is less than fine.
It's easy to blame HBO or LG -- and it is kind of an annoying state of affairs -- but the basic problem is deeper: every streaming service has its own app, its own login, it's own library of titles, and its own subtly different UI. So, you're constantly having to context switch and ask yourself "Was that video on Netflix or Amazon Prime? Or Maybe it's Hulu? Oh, it's on both? Then which one was I watching it on?" And what is the gesture to bring up the subtitles?
This is a dumb state of affairs, and one that didn't have to happen. As a counterexample, you can read your email with any email client; youou don't need to use Facebook Browser to read Facebook; and you don't need a different app on your iPhone to call people on AT&T than to call people on T-Mobile. It's just that we've gotten used to it because so much content is locked up in vertically integrated silos where you have to have the app to view the content (thanks mobile!). This isn't any kind of technical problem: you could obviously have a generic client that was able to stream media from any provider: Amazon Prime and Hulu already do this with add-on providers like HBO, Starz, etc; it's just that neither app covers every streaming provider and (as noted above) they don't always have the whole catalog.
I don't really have a conclusion here: there are powerful economic incentives for content providers to want to lock stuff up in their own silos, but let's not pretend it's the way it has to be.
HBO gracefully refunded my first month subscription because I hadn't used it. ↩︎