Why HBO Nordic sucks

And how we can fix that


Introduction

I just got my HBO Nordic subscription because of Last Week Tonight, and not because of Game of Thrones. Seriously, I got my subscription because of this guy (and this is proof that I’ve also been binge-watching the show for the past few days)

HBO Nordic

I love John Oliver and his team (if anybody is actually reading this, I really want to get in touch and ask a lot of stupid questions) for their amazing (and legal) approach towards their very sensitive world topics; and I highly recommend anyone to watch Last Week Tonight.

And now, back to my main point of this post; HBO Nordic needs a lot of improvements on how it works. And this will be a geeky post :) So, if you are technically or design inclined, you might hopefully be interested in this, and I hope you share it so it can reach the right people. If you are not, then, I welcome you to a short glimpse in the world of user interface design improvements, some programming here and there, the movie and gaming industry at a glimpse.

Disclaimer

This post is not meant to rant about a problem and throw with stones into a person or company. I believe that rants have no inherent value to them, except reciprocating verbal violence and is a form of misdirected anger. So, with this in mind, I want to present solutions for the issues they are facing and hopefully making them happen.

I also have gotten permission from HBO Nordic to write and share in-app screenshots.


The problems

HBO Nordic Google Play score of 2.7 in Oct. 2015

Because I love what HBO produces and promotes, I’d want to see them doing better than 2.7 stars on Google Play, and a decent amount of backfire regarding their relatively recent introduction to the Nordic market (2012). The general ratings for the application are down and I think they could use the help.

Research

The best approach towards a proper comparison would be if I could compare and analyse the systems from different points of views, especially outside of the EU. But I’ve been trying to do some research on HBO NOW to see how the interfaces compare and work, but due to the “lovely” international system that exists in this great world of ours (regionalisation), I can’t even see a bloody presentation video of the thing.

Because, fuck you, you don’t live in the US, you are probably from Narnia. Alas, this is something everybody in the rest of the world is more than used to.

HBO NOW: Video not loading because you are in another country than the one we intended you to watch

So, my research is limited only to the Nordic version of HBO, since I live in Denmark.

And I know I could have used a VPN and do other stuff just to watch these videos or check these apps, but I see it as being unusual normal user behavior and it would take extra time which I can put into writing this article.

If people can’t get to content in a easy manner, they will just leave it.

Name

Guys. Guys. Guys!

Main HBO brands

I understand the ideas of all these services was to offer options to the users. Just like HBO Comedy, Latino, etc. But this is ridiculous.

Name the whole goddamn thing HBO, and give us the whole HBO experience. I know tens of thousand of dollars of quality research & development concluded that it should be named HBO Nordic or whatnot.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

When a person has to Google “what’s the difference between HBO Go and HBO Now, and when you have articles from TechTimes and Quora, you should know something is off.

Now, with this, the conclusion is: Give it one good name. The one you have. HBO

Design

Here we’ll look over some of the existing problems and analyse the layout.

Main screen

So, here’s the main screen that you’re greeted with.

All looking beautiful, great imagery for the series banners, concise information for it, great contrast and balance in general. But small issues appear when you use it for just a little while. Fx:

  • The bottom bar that should help you play your last watched episode. Well, it kind of works. Mostly I never use it because I just get a really old episode that I tried watching a long time ago, and it doesn’t properly update.

When we go lower in the page we can see a list of … latest? Newest? Most popular in my network? Most popular for me?

After many months of using HBO Nordic, I still don’t know. Just the stuff that someone, somewhere chose for me.

I need a title, something that can tell me exactly what should I expect from this area. Why am I seeing these specific series here?

Besides the need to inform the user more, there is a lot of space wasted. Horizontally you could easily fit in at least 4 series, and you can easily divide them better.

How about something on these lines:

Note: works on desktop

Series page

When you click on any series you get this page

Series show template/page

I like it, perfect, just nice. Some small tweaks here and there though:

Trailer

First thing’s first — let’s throw in a trailer on the top where we have the cool banner image. This feature is lacking even in the movie section, where you might think a trailer would make more sense.

You can easily embed a trailer there using the MediaElementJS player(referenced in the Technical part lower) as a standalone player, or just throw in a Youtube video. Heck, you wouldn’t even need to worry about putting the video through extra security layers and encryption, because it’s something that should be seen by people.

Again, understandable why you wouldn’t want to put a trailer in the series section (well… what am I talking about, you release a lot of teasers for upcoming episodes), but it should be a must in the movie section.

Order

For the love of God, stop swap the order of how you’re displaying the episodes. Episode #1 goes at the top, episode #12 goes at the bottom.

Not the other way around.

Design

User Experience

I won’t even tell you that there is a problem. I will let some other people mention this:

HBO — you need to understand that people love binge-watching. Usually when you start watching a TV-show, you usually prefer to watch a lot of it, sometimes, with some extra activities. Netflix and chill is a thing!

People love HBO, and people love their shows. And it’s in the company’s interest to keep people engaged in their service. And that’s why the lack of improvement makes absolutely no sense.

People want to watch your stuff and be engaged, but things have not been changing.

Quick solution for this is presented lower in the article.

Thought

One grim possibility (which I truly hope it’s not the case) is that they are using dark patterns like road block, which is something terrible.

Note: This is not a accusation, I have no proof of foul play, I am saying it can be a possibility, especially when you consider that forced continuity is something that seems to have happened in Finland when HBO Nordic was launched there.

Technological

I have no knowledge on the back-end system used, so I have no clue what it’s made on, so my ideas or feedback would be pointless; I hope Node or Rails, but I know enterprise Java and ASP is more common in the Nordic countries as far as infrastructure systems go.

Since HBO needs to stream on a large range of devices and platforms (Xbox, Samsung TV, web, Android, iOS), kudos to the back-end team who keeps everything running smoothly. I haven’t had big problems with the stability of the system.

Flash

RIP Flash

I will be short in this chapter. Just kill Flash. Stop using it!

I mean really, I’m not the only one who has been saying this.

HTML5 Video has a lot better browser support, it’s bloody native to the browser and it works with absolutely no extra plugins on any platform. Neflix did it starting from 2013!

With a right team, you can easily use MediaElementJS or Video.js and you can create a beautiful custom player(if you want, and should), just like TED is using. It would take some work, but in the end it would be worth it.

And if someone says “Security is not as good in HTML5, blablabla”, call bullshit on that, because it is. Tell them to do their research better (Flash has terrible security issues), and DRM is not a good point to keep your platform outdated and inflexible. Somehow, you managed to make the Android and iOS app work, and they don’t support flash :)

Just. Do. It.

Piracy

This section ended up being so long, I decided to put it in another article that I’m writing, but a quick recap:

People just want their content at the same time. Everywhere. If not, they can find another way. Regionalisation, initially a good idea, has turned into a problem instead of being a solution. And that needs to be fixed.

And this is a message for the big guys at HBO, not the Nordic division which gets the content much later.

Give people their bloody content in time. They will be happy, which will make them throw money at you, and you will be happy. Trust me on this one.

General solutions/suggestions

Note:

If some fonts look off, that’s because they are. HBO Nordic uses Helvetica as their main font and I’m working on Windows and do not have the Helvetica pack, so I used the closest font at my disposal.

Next episode

We just throw in the familiar next episode button.

HBO Video player with next option

Now, for the logic behind making this next button:

var vid = document.getElementById(“video”),
vidDuration = vid.duration, // result in seconds https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/HTMLMediaElement/duration
episodeCreditsDurationInSeconds = 30, //or whatever the default duration is for the credits rolling for that specific series
trigger = vidDuration - episodeCreditsDurationInSeconds;
if(vidDuration == trigger) {
   doTheMagicFunction();
}
/* And I think the video duration should be checked every few seconds so it get updated for the if statement. The first duration should be the total amount (which you can also calculate on upload to the server, and save it to the database so the client doesnt do extra work. And MediaElementJS should have some easier to work with functions
*/

Recently watched

Recently watched list on HBO Nordic

This list contains ALL the episodes that I have recently watched. This way of showing this information is absolutely pointless.

Put in the series; and after one click we go to the list view.

Or, make it as a drop-down list of some sorts.

Subtitles

Minor thing, but remember, there are a lot of people in the Nordic countries who do not understand a Nordic language that well, so a option of having English subtitles would be more than welcomed, as some other people agree (and also mention there are some issues with the translated texts to danish)

Quality selector

I would like to have the option of selecting the desired quality for my videos. This is applies more so to mobile usage.

Scenario: I really want to see the latest episode of GoT, because … it’s the new episode of GoT, but I don’t have enough data for HD streaming and I know it; so why not have a quality selector button. Anyway you have a system in place so that it starts with the low quality version (and I’m guessing it gives you the version depending on your current internet connection) and then it loads the high-quality one.

Watch-list

HBO Nordic Watch-list

That blue button means ‘Add to watch-list’, which is great! Definitely something that is useful.

But when you want to watch a series, you save the series you want to watch.

Not the individual episodes.

I should be able to favorite a TV show, and next time I want to start watching it, I should get the option (should be on by default) that it starts from the moment that I closed the episode the last time I was in that series.

Even more small details:

You could:

  • take the IMDb API and throw in your series ratings from there.
  • make your own rating system.
  • If you have a Graph database, easily make better and faster suggestions to your users depending on their own social network/friends/city/country.
  • start writing who is the original network (since you have rights to broadcast AMC shows as well as others).
  • give us easy to access behind the scenes! Your fans love behind the scenes!

Conclusion

This article took me a lot longer to write than originally planned (started writing it in the end of October), but here we are; we’ve looked over the currently existing problems in the end of 2015 from the HBO Nordic platform, suggestions with code snippets, simple mock-ups, many small recommendations and another article on it’s way(some time) regarding piracy.

I hope that HBO will continue improving to give us the excellent quality shows it has been making up until now.

If there are any suggestions, questions or mistakes that you notice in this article, do let me know so I can correct them, and if you enjoyed it (and you’re maybe using HBO nordic and you agree with my points), please share it and even tag HBO PR on Twitter so they could actually make these changes easier and faster.

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