This week, HBO launched their new online video service called HBO Go for customers with FiOS TV and a subscription to HBO. While there have already been a couple reviews of the service, here are some details I haven't seen anyone talking about, the most interesting of which is that HBO is not using a CDN for the streaming.
I've been using the service over the past two days and overall, I'm pretty impressed. The quality of the videos is on par with what I think most consumers expectations would be with SD videos being encoded at 1.2Mbps and HD videos being encoded at 2.6Mbps. HBO has confirmed that currently, content is only being encoded for a single bitrate, although the company is looking at adding adaptive bitrates down the road. The video player has all of the controls that one would expect to see and navigating the site is pretty straightforward. Upon initial startup, the videos take a few seconds longer to buffer than I would like to see, but that's something that should be improved when HBO starts using adaptive bitrate technology.
While there is only 600 hours of content available for viewing at any given time, content that premiers on linear TV will show up online right after it finishes premiering on TV. So new series like The Pacific, set to debut next month, will be online immediately. A spokesperson for HBO confirmed that the company has "no plans" to change their model to offer more than 600 hours of content available at any given time, from a total pool of 850 hours of video inventory.
One of the most interesting things learned from doing race routes on where the streams are coming from shows that no CDN is being used for the delivery. In this case, Verizon has brought the delivery of the streams in-house to their own CDN and is managing all of the streaming. Content is coming off of their Velocix based CDN and from what I have seen, this is the first time a major MSO has decided to deliver online video from their own infrastructure. While some have suggested that HBO's selection of content is limited due to the fact that they are not a web video company and can't manage content, that's not the case since this is all being handled by Verizon.
How HBO will handle the delivery of their content when other MSO's offer the HBO Go service is something to keep a close eye on. To date, cable operators have not tried to deliver their own online video, but they will over time. While there is a large initial cost to setup their networks to handle this, over time their costs will be lower than using a CDN and most importantly, they can guarantee a QOS. The big problem standing in their way however is that many of the cable networks currently can't handle putting online video on their network, as they just don't have the capacity. It will be interesting to see how many of them are willing to make the investment to change that.