News Analysis
Live streaming took another left to the chin last night when subscribers to HBO’s two streaming units, HBO Now and HBO Go, reported widespread snafus during the final season debut of Game of Thrones. The reported problems included everything from login issues to picture buffering to system outages.

Subscribers who get HBO through Hulu also said they had various difficulties trying to watch the much-anticipated GOT episode.

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The problems should have come as no surprise to anyone who has ever tried to watch a high-profile event over the Internet. Over the last few years, numerous shows or sporting events such as the Super Bowl, Academy Awards and season-ending episodes have experienced significant technical hiccups, with some programs becoming outright disasters by shutting down for long periods of time.

Live streaming’s technical snafus don’t happen on every service, not does it happen during every major event. But it does happen a lot, and consumers contemplating subscribing to a live streaming service deserve to know that the technology is still a work in progress. Despite companies investing heavily in secure infrastructure, the onslaught of a large audience can still be overwhelming, causing a stream to buckle under the pressure. (Last night’s GOT problems is the best evidence of this argument. AT&T, which owns HBO, certainly knew that GOT would generate a massive audience. If it couldn’t deliver a relatively error-free experience under that scenario, who can?)

That said, watching live streaming is usually a pleasant experience. If you decide tonight to watch live channels on Sling TV, Hulu Live or DIRECTV Now (or any other major live streamer), you probably will be pleased. The picture will likely be crisp and clear without any interruptions. And it probably will be again tomorrow night and the next night.

But sometime next week, during a season finale, or major sporting event, you might suddenly be gnashing your teeth because all you see on your screen is a spinning circle or square (symbols some streaming services use during buffering moments.).

(Plus, if your Internet service is not particularly fast, you might experience picture interruptions during any show or sporting event, regardless of the audience size. This is not the fault of the live streaming service, but it goes with the territory.)

Generally speaking, the distribution of live programming over the Internet is simply not as reliable yet as the delivery of programming over cable or satellite connections.

That’s not to say that cable and satellite don’t have occasional problems. But compared to live streaming, their issues are few and far between.

Live streaming will get better. Companies behind live streaming services continue to spend on new technology and infrastructure. But right now, it is what it is. Unpredictable.

And anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest with you.

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— Phillip Swann

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