HBO’s Streaming Service Launches, Verizon Managing Videos And Doing The Delivery

Hbogo 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.

  • RMB

    off topic, but thought you might be able to answer. In Youtube’s experiments with live streaming, can you explain why they use Akamai? What are they missing to do this themselves? I’ve seen this question come up several times in other places, but have not seen it answered. Thx

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    @RNB: From a technical standpoint, YouTube is not missing anything to do live. Even though they don’t use Flash Media Servers and support RTMP to deliver their videos today, they could still do live if they wanted to. They have even commented publicly that the technology is not what’s stopping them from delivering live streams.
    I think it’s simply a business decision at this point. Why put all the work into doing a live event and spending the time and effort to do it when it’s just a one-off event. At some point, if YouTube did live events all the time, they might start doing them themselves. While they say they can do it, and I think they can, I’d be willing to bet the quality of their live streams would be terrible unless they truly set it up properly.

  • Winston

    HBO uses Limelight Networks for all their CDN Services including HBOgo.com

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    Ah no, they don’t. Go do some trace routes and talk to the companies involved.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben

    I thought ESPN360 was also served or cached from the ISP’s servers?

  • winston

    you are wrong..

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    Ok, if I am wrong, then please show me a trace route that proves otherwise. And why would both HBO and Verizon have the wrong details on how the streams are being delivered? You’re saying that HBO does not know who is delivering their content and that Verizon does not know how it’s being delivered across their network? Makes no sense.

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    @Ben: I have not checked on ESPN360.com’s streams in awhile. Will have to do then when I have the chance.

  • John H

    Dan, Velocix *is* a CDN.
    Did you even read what you wrote?
    1) “…the most interesting of which is that HBO is not using a CDN for the streaming.”
    2) “…that no CDN is being used for the delivery.”
    3) “Content is coming off of their Velocix based CDN…”
    Uh What?
    From Velocix’s own website:
    “Velocix is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) solutions and services provider.”
    I mean really? Really? You do better than this usually Dan.
    John H.

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    Velocix has not been a CDN in quite some time. While they had a very_small delivery business, mostly outside the U.S., even before they were acquired by Alcatel-Lucent they were focusing on their Metro product which is a platform sold to ISPs.
    http://blog.streamingmedia.com/the_business_of_online_vi/2008/12/velocix-launches-new-cdn-offering-for-isps-with-support-from-adobe-and-microsoft.html

  • John H.

    Oh, I see! They aren’t a CDN anymore. Now they deliver content over a network for IPSs! Ah, glad you cleared that up….
    Do they charge companies to deliver said companies content over a network??? Yes or No?

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    They don’t actually deliver the content, the ISP does. Velocix is a software platform. They license their platform to someone like Verizon who then deploys it on Verizon’s own servers, inside Verizon’s own network.

  • George

    If they are not a CDN, why do they sell CDN services (not software)?
    www . velocix . com / solutions_cdn.php

  • Carlos

    Dan, this is one of the worst and most innacurate posts I’ve seen you write in a while. If you had just read HBO’s press release, you would have learned that HBO is leaving the CDN selection up to the cable and satellite companies. Just from poking around, I can tell HBO is using Limelight for all the images and trailers on their main site and for the trailers on HBOGO (just do a netstat -a -b -f while playing a trailer and you will see llnw.net:1935). In short, your post is wrong and the comments are right. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around in the blog world?

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    George, if you notice, they have not updated their site in about 8 months since the Alcatel-Lucent acquisition. I speak to Velocix’s management pretty often and their core focus now is on their Metro platform and selling to ISPs and carriers.
    When Alcatel-Lucent bought Velocix, the person that the Velocix offering now falls under in the IP division of Alcatel-Lucent told me, “we’re not sure exactly how we will proceed with the CDN services but our focus is going to be providing solutions to our service provider customers.”
    You can read more about that here:
    http://blog.streamingmedia.com/the_business_of_online_vi/2009/07/alcatellucent-acquires-cdn-technology-provider-velocix.html

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    Carlos, I have spoken to all the companies involved including Limelight. I can’t go into details on what each company has told me since the conversations were off the record but it does appear that more than one company is delivering the content.
    Verizon is delivering content for HBO Go, the question I still don’t have any answer on, even after speaking to all the companies involved, is how much content Verizon is doing themselves and how much is being done by Limelight. I’ve spoken to all three companies about it so I am not going off of a press release, I am going based on what I have been told, directly, from the companies themselves.
    Based on the trace route details I was getting and from what I was told from the companies, that’s where I got the details for the post. If the companies involved end up giving me new details or explaining exactly what is and is not being done by whom, then of course I will update the post.

  • http://www.ramprate.com Steve Lerner

    Even though I’m a FIOS customer and signed up for HBO Go successfully, I’m now getting a “You have exceeded the maximum number of sign-ins for this account” error trying to sign in.
    As soon as they fix this I’ll do the traceroutes and post the results and end this nonsense (and prove Dan right) once and for all.

  • http://www.ramprate.com Steve Lerner

    Ok here it is
    Tracing route to 65.213.226.241 over a maximum of 30 hops
    1 48 ms 36 ms 38 ms Wireless_Broadband_Router.home [192.168.1.1]
    2 39 ms 35 ms 46 ms L100.NWRKNJ-VFTTP-87.verizon-gni.net [98.109.110
    .1]
    3 45 ms 38 ms 42 ms G1-2-787.NWRKNJ-LCR-07.verizon-gni.net [130.81.1
    09.98]
    4 38 ms 46 ms 44 ms so-5-0-0-0.NWRK-BB-RTR1.verizon-gni.net [130.81.
    29.8]
    5 46 ms 47 ms 39 ms 0.so-7-0-0.XL3.EWR6.ALTER.NET [152.63.19.177]
    6 45 ms 46 ms 44 ms 0.ge-7-1-0.XL3.IAD8.ALTER.NET [152.63.32.33]
    7 38 ms 38 ms 44 ms POS6-0.GW3.IAD8.ALTER.NET [152.63.41.21]
    8 45 ms 37 ms 38 ms 65.213.226.241
    Trace complete.
    I’m a FIOS customer, have instant access to HBO GO. It access my Verizon account to verify me. I chose a sci-fi movie and let it roll. The IP address above 65.213.226.241 is the one running data on port 1935.
    Mystery solved- its not coming from Limelight.

  • Kevin

    @Steve Lerner
    You haven’t solved anything.
    Dam himself said more than one company is delivering the content. And you posted a traceroute from a Fios connection? gee, no wonder it went went to Verizon, you are already on Verizon. More traceroutes from Fios customers are not needed, what’s needed (if anyone cares, which I don’t. So why am I responding?) are traceroutes from Comcast customers on a Comcast

  • Kevin

    Interesting to note is that hbogo.vo.llnwd.net resolves to Limelight. I’m not sure why a brand name such as hbogo would have a hostname with Limelight if it weren’t being used. Someone had to manually create that host name for some reason.

  • http://www.ramprate.com Steve Lerner

    What is solved, anonymous Kevin, is that LL is not delivering the video for FIOS- another CDN or system is used… Of course it needs to be tested elsewhere- but on FIOS, as of right now, no CDN has the business- and that is what everyone is huffing about.

  • Chris

    Affiliates who participate with HBO Go are responsible for providing authentication and a content-distribution network to deliver the video to subs. Verizon “already has an extensive CDN, and our goal is to get the content as close to the user as possible,” Strickland said.

  • http://cisco.com jaak defour

    So the HBOGO TVE portal uses the Verizon CDN for VZ customers in VZ footprint. What happens when a VZ customer travels and accesses the HBOGO TVE portal from another ISP network. Does HBO revert to LLNW for content delivery to VZ customers outside VZ footprint?

  • Chris

    @ Jaak Defour
    I believe it has to do with the log in authentication system. I have FiOS at home and when logging in from work, which is a non Verizon ISP, I still get directed to Velocix IP’s for delivery.

  • http://cisco.com jaak defour

    So, the HBO TVEverywhere portal HBOGO and the VZ TVE portal both serve the same content and use the same CDN for VZ subs. Are these Portals any different, aka do they use the same formats, bitrates, delivery methods?
    We know that in the HBO/Comcast TVEverywhere situtation both Portals “will” be very different as HBO is Flash-based and Comcast is Move-based

  • http://www.facebook.com/alanchrishughes Alan Hughes

    The video quality is terrible, I don’t know what you’re talking about.