Americans dream of being able to access quality TV programming without a cable subscription, and Scandinavia has been the testing ground for the coming services. There have been definate winners and losers here. Netflix has emerged as the victor. HBO Nordic has been a disaster, and Amazon has abandoned us.
Netflix does it right
Last Fall saw the launch of Netflix in Scandinavia, along with HBO Nordic. For those of us with Apple TV, Netflix had an immediate advantage, as it already had an icon on the screen, which worked with our new accounts from day one. Despite initial disapppointment because the offerings weren’t as extensive as in the US, Netflix got it right from the beginning.
HBO showed us first as a channel on service provider Telia’s IPTV service, provoking some complaints from excluded providers. When the service finally did launch online only, with an ios app, there were complaints because rather than the standard trial month, the company wanted users to pay for a full year of service, sight unseen. When they finally gave in to complaints and allowed users to cancel cost-free within the first month, it turned out the app was badly flawed. Besides a confusing and clunky interface, there was no Airplay to get it into an Apple TV, not even the clumsy AIrplay mirroring.
HBO Nordic’s Twitter feed was filled with complaints, and after a few weeks Airplay mirroring was introduced. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Often the app just crashed. Moreover, the customer service has been a disaster. Since January 2013, the customer service reps on Twitter have been promising that both proper Airplay and an Apple TV app were on the way. Day after day they made this promise. By summer, when neither promise had been fullfiled, there had been a glaring change in the HBO Nordic Twitter feed. Instead of many tweets every day answering questions from interested customers, HBO Nordic was tweeting every day or two. Sometimes a week would go by between tweets. The people they were supposed to be interfacing with had simply gone away.
During this period the HBO Go app launched on the Apple TV. But, unlike the Netflix app, it doesn’t work with Nordic accounts. Asked why Netflix could accomplish this while HBO could not, the customer service reps waffled.
The rest of the pack
There are a handful of similar services here that offer TV programming to tablets and computers, like Viaplay and Filmnet, and Telia’s own Telia Play Plus. None seem to have as many offerings as Netflix (but they all seem to vary and are worthwhile comparing if one is interested in a particular genre, some may be better at Swedish programs or European film, for example), and none are capable of actually getting a TV image into a TV set.
If one is satisfied with watching programs on a tablet, then all of these services are adequate. But the lack of Airplay just makes them all seem incomplete.
Then there is Amazon. Many years ago, when Netflix only mailed DVDs to customers, a similar service started here in Sweden, called Brafilm (“bra” is Swedish for “good”). Eventually it was bought up by a similar company in Britain called Lovefilm, which in turn was bought by Amazon.
Along the way, British Lovefilm followed Netflix in making films available online and via apps, and today the Amazon-run operation is much like Netflix, with its entire library viewable online and on TV sets via Airplay. During this period, the Swedish Lovefilm made a handful of films available online (basically a “film of the week”), and never introduced Airplay. Faced with the arrival of Netflix and HBO Nordic in Scandinavia, instead of rising to the challenge, Amazon took its marbles and went home, closing the Swedish Lovefilm.
This was been devastating. Even if they hadn’t gone online, the DVDs by mail operation was unique in the region, and based on a huge library. There are many many films and TV programs that Swedish Lovefilm carried that are just not available from the new online services. Now, the only way to get such films is to rent or buy them from the dwindling number of DVD shops.
So, the cord-cutting future is here in Scandinavia, and some companies are dealing with it better than others. But if I was in America, I wouldn’t get too optimistic about HBO. They seem to be terribly flawed.