Streaming services are a real boon for TV watchers, unless of course your service goes on the fritz while you're viewing. Just ask anyone who experienced Sling TV's crash during the recent NCAA men's Final Four or HBO Go's problems during last season’s first episode of "Game of Thrones" and the season finale of "True Detective."
That's why we're interested in seeing what might happen this Sunday evening when the new season of "Game of Thrones" premieres to what should be a huge audience. Will people who stream the episode on Sling TV or via HBO Go get to see the show without any complications?
Streaming services can be susceptible to problems. Streaming video travels a much more circuitous route than cable TV does, which can result in buffering issues and outages. And then there's network overload at peak viewing times or broadband that's just not broad enough.
Such issues give cable companies a delivery edge over streaming services. (Storm-based outages do affect cable service.) Frankly, it's surprising cable companies haven't taken out ads touting the reliability of their service.
Sling TV and HBO have taken preventive measures in advance of the "Game of Thrones" season premiere:
- Sling TV said in a company blog that its software is being updated this week to better handle increased traffic. The company also says that if Sling detects congestion on the primary network, it will be able to reroute traffic to a backup Web-service provider.
- And since its issues last year, HBO has abandoned its own streaming technology and is instead outsourcing a streaming platform from MLB Advanced Media, which provides the technology for sites such as MLB.com and the WWE network. The switch is supposed to provide a more stable viewing experience for the growing number of HBO streamers.
We're also wondering whether HBO will start cracking down more seriously on account sharers. Some people have suggested on Twitter that HBO crashes aren’t being caused by subscribers but rather by those who mooch off other people’s accounts. On the help page for HBO Now, the company says it won't impose stricter password-sharing limitations than those for HBO Go, though it warns that it might impose “other tools of enforcement” if the company sees account-sharing levels that affect its business.
If HBO or Sling TV falters during "Game of Thrones" on Sunday night, we might later find out what those other tools of enforcement really are or whether disgruntled customers decide to return to cable.
—James K. Willcox
Copyright © 2005-2015 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.