Why it took HBO GO so long to come to Apple TV

Apple TV (teaser 001)

Yesterday morning, Apple announced that an update was available for its Apple TV devices. The new software, which was earmarked as version 5.3, featured a handful of content streaming apps including WatchESPN and HBO GO.

Users have been clamoring for HBO GO to land on Apple’s ATV platform for quite some time, as its been available on iOS for years. So what took it so long? According to HBO’s chief technology officer, it was building the app itself…

Apparently, this was the first app that HBO has created an app completely in-house using its own software and design teams. In an interview with The Verge, CTO Otto Berkes explained some of the challenges his teams encountered.

“Nothing is more time consuming than writing all the code involved and encoding HBO’s massive video library, said Otto Berkes, HBO’s chief technology officer, in an exclusive interview with The Verge. He said “optimizing the compression formula to deliver the high-quality video to the lowest bandwidth” is a massive undertaking.

Getting HBO Go on the Apple TV might have taken longer had HBO not begun to boost the number of engineers working at the company’s new development center in Seattle. Apple TV was the first app that HBO created completely in-house, said Berkes, a former Microsoft executive who started at HBO two years ago. Prior to Apple TV, HBO teamed with third parties on its apps, but “this was 100 percent created by our software and design staff,” Berkes said.”

Late or not, HBO GO’s arrival on the ATV is a huge win for Apple, who continues to refer to the device as a ‘hobby.’ Some hobby. Apple has sold over 13 million of the set top boxes to date, and many see it as just a tiny preview of things to come.

Pundits continue to predict that Apple will eventually go all-in in the TV space with either a TV set or a Tivo-like device. But in order for it to do that, it needs content. And this HBO GO-ATV deal is the perfect example of why that’s so hard to do.

“The rub is that not every cable and satellite affiliate of HBO and ESPN agrees to authenticate every mobile or set-top box.

For instance, Charter Communications has refused to authenticate HBO Go for Apple TV. Comcast blocks subscribers from receiving HBO fare on the Roku, according to HBO’s site. Dish won’t authenticate ESPN but it does authenticate HBO Go for the Apple TV as well as many other gadgets. Yesterday morning, when Apple announced it would offer HBO and ESPN, DirecTV wasn’t authenticating the device. By late afternoon, however, the satellite TV provider had reversed itself. “

Folks looking to grab the new Apple TV update can do so by opening up Settings on the ATV and navigating to General > Update Software. Keep in mind that in order to view videos in the new HBO GO app, you’ll need an HBO/cable subscription.