When I logged onto my parents’ HBO Go account on Sunday night to watch “Game of Thrones,” I had no idea that I would soon be witnessing what will probably go down in Internet history as The Great HBO Go Crash of 2014. (It will also likely be noted as one of the prime examples of #firstworldproblems to date, only it’s been framed as #hbogoproblems.)
For those who might be unfamiliar, HBO Go is HBO’s streaming service. It’s like Netflix but for content only available on HBO, such as “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and even every season of shows that have been off the air for a while, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” For TV buffs everywhere, it’s practically a gift, especially when you consider that “Game of Thrones” is the most illegally downloaded television show of all time.
The only catch is that HBO Go is only available to those who already have a subscription to HBO. Well, unless you’re like me and so many other 20-somethings who can access their family’s/friends’ accounts through “password sharing.”
This seems like a legal gray area: It’s not quite stealing, and it’s not quite buying the content. You would think HBO would be up in arms about that ethical dilemma, but HBO CEO Richard Plepler told Buzzfeed that he doesn’t see password sharing as a problem because it doesn’t hurt business and could even potentially bring in new subscribers.
He even said, “We’re in the business of creating addicts.” So… the more addicts the better? Sure. So now that we’ve cast HBO as the kingpin of addictive television, this brings us to the horrific events of Sunday night.
Having not actually used my parents’ account before this fateful evening, I didn’t quite know what to expect when the home page was taking a while to load; by “a while,” I mean I waited for at least 30 minutes and it still never loaded. Go ahead: make all the judgments you want about the fact that I waited that long for an Internet page to load. I was really excited about watching some HBO, OK?
Confused about how long it was taking, I thought that perhaps HBO had already figured out my coup, or perhaps this was just HBO Go being difficult — technology is mysterious sometimes.
However, I soon realized that there was a much more serious problem at hand when a little window popped up on the buffering screen that read “Fatal error: failed to load the service error definitions.” Ouch. It was so fatal that it couldn’t even load the definitions of the errors it was apparently experiencing.
I couldn’t very easily just hit up “help” at HBO Go and be like, “y u no work?” since I wasn’t using it legally. So I went to a source that I wouldn’t normally consult on such a matter: Twitter. Lo and behold, HBO Go has a Twitter account, and they had posted only eight minutes before I logged on to say, “Due to overwhelmingly popular demand for #TrueDetective, we’ve been made aware of an issue affecting some users. Please try again soon.”
Ah, yes. The new show starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson that viewers have described as truly addictive was the alleged culprit.
The servers at HBO were so overwhelmed by traffic for the season finale that they broke. It looked like Plepler’s business plan for addicts was working, but he didn’t account for the backlash of those addicts not getting their fix, especially when the dealer basically told them it was OK for some of them to not pay for it. Twitter began to surge with angry viewers, and they were not kind.
Tweets contained comments like “True Defective,” “HBO Go fuck yourself,” “HBO NO,” “more like HBO Go slow amirite?” and “Some users? Try every user.” Memes were even created within minutes of HBO Go’s tweet.
The people wanted “True Detective” and they wanted it now. Their lives were seemingly at a standstill without getting their fix. People complained of having binge-watched the entire series all day in order to prepare for the finale only to have it yanked out of reach. People who just wanted to watch the new episode of “Girls” felt victimized against the popularity of a show they didn’t even watch.
As a remedy, some began posting links to torrenting websites like The Pirate Bay because they were already impatient trying to watch the show at least pseudo-legally. Some people even resigned themselves to going to bed without watching anything. I know: that any of them lived through this is amazing.
But not really.
Maybe if I’d actually seen “True Detective” I would be more sympathetic, but I can’t help but feel a certain amount of disdain for most of the people who expressed such anger at HBO Go the other night. They don’t realize that just because they couldn’t get what they want that night doesn’t mean they can’t still have it later? Is that not the beautiful thing about streaming television?
But maybe this is more of an indication of how we watch TV now. In the age of the terrifying Comcast-Time Warner merger, perhaps we should be more grateful for having streaming services at all, especially in a time when television shows are of such a higher caliber than they used to be. In fact, they are probably better than they have ever been because of their cinematic qualities and ease of accessibility thanks to networks like HBO.
America’s television addiction may be real, but it’s important to realize that we have more power over it than ever. The Internet gives us more agency as consumers than people tend to think, as evidenced by reactions to the crash. But one night of no access is still merely a blip on the screen.
Stephanie Self studies English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.