Wolk’s Week in Review: HBO digs itself in deeper, Project OAR goes live

TV[R]EV Week In Review

Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. HBO digs itself in deeper

AT&T dug itself into an even deeper hole this week, announcing that it was going to sunset HBO Go (its OTT product for MVPD subscribers) on July 31 and rename HBO Now (its OTT product for everyone else) “HBO.”

Why it matters

If you haven’t been following along, AT&T is in a battle with Roku and Amazon over what essentially boils down to an old school carriage deal.

Amazon and Roku want the new HBO Max app to be a part of their “channel stores” (the way Now was) so that they can continue to integrate HBO shows into Amazon Prime and The Roku Channel, while  reaping sizable percentages of subscription fees, eventual ad revenue and data.

AT&T, OTOH, wants to send everyone directly to the HBO Max app where they will handle all subscriptions, curate the user experience and create a more tangible brand.

Clearly they are hoping that sunsetting Go will put pressure on the two platforms to come to the table, given that around two-thirds to three-quarters of Go’s 35 million subscribers will no longer have an HBO app of any kind as of July 31.

Or not.

A quick look at any of the various promoted tweets and/or Facebook posts about HBO Max reveals that consumers are blaming HBO and not Roku or Amazon for the hang up, many going as far as to call the new app a “fraud” because it’s not available on those two platforms.

Which, as we’ve noted, is kind of an NSS moment.

When, say, Dish and CBS get into one of the former’s frequent carriage fee beefs, consumers get that the disagreement is about money and Dish will claim they are fighting to keep costs down and save their subscribers money.

In this case, however, AT&T’s argument is not nearly as simple.

AT&T: “We want you to subscribe directly from us so we can keep all the subscription fees.”

CONSUMER: “But it’s easier if I subscribe through Amazon or Roku because that way I can keep track of all my subscriptions and don’t have to keep creating new passwords every time I try a new app.”

AT&T: “We want to make sure you use the beautifully designed app we’ve created for you.”

CONSUMER: “Wait? You mean if Amazon and Roku get their way I won’t be able to use the HBO Max app?”

AT&T: “Well no, but it seems that most of you don’t like going to the app and prefer to watch via the Channel Store and we don’t want that.”

CONSUMER: “Why do you want to make my life more difficult?”

AT&T: “We want to be able to own all the data about your viewing habits and not share it with Amazon and Roku.”

CONSUMER: “WTF! You’re tracking my viewing habits? What else are you tracking?”

So not an easy argument to win, though if we’ve learned anything over the past several years, it’s that even seemingly unpopular opinions can be spun to a certain segment of the audience and it’s possible that AT&T can convince their Go subscribers to put pressure on Amazon and Roku to carry the app.

Possible, but not likely.

Oh, and P.S., while most people will not realize that Now is now just HBO, the likely thought process will be “Oh, they changed the logo. I wonder if that means I just got that new app they launched… or not. It looks the same as the old one.”

So, there’s that too.

What you need to do about it

If you’re AT&T, you need to be realistic about your situation. Hardcore fans will watch on their laptops or figure out the hack to download Max onto Amazon Fire TV, but everyone else is going to be blaming you for this, not Roku and Amazon.

Unless, of course, you want to try and run some sort of marketing or social media campaign to get viewers to pressure Roku and Amazon, but there’s no guarantee that will work.

Remember too, that are seven other Flixes out there, six of which are on Roku and Amazon (Peacock’s fate is still up in the air.) And all those Now subscribers might not be all that bothered that they can’t watch Harry Potter movies or the new “Perry Mason” (which is getting very good reviews, but still, it’s one series) and thus not be particularly chuffed about not being able to get Max.

Thus, divide and conquer may be your best strategy and if it were us, we’d go with Roku first as they are smaller.

Unless, of course, the Google rumors prove to be true, at which point you’re back to square one.

If you’re everyone else, get your popcorn. We’re just in the first 15 minutes of this movie and there are bound to be many more plot twists along the way.

2. Project OAR goes live

Project OAR (Open, Addressable, Ready), which plans to establish standards and tech specs to allow for networks to run addressable advertising via overlays on smart TVs, announced today that it would begin live tests via Fox, VCBS, NBCU, Scripps, and AMC.

Why it matters

For most people, addressable overlays on smart TVs sounds like something from a sci-fi movie: the internet-enabled smart TV recognizes what show the viewer is watching and, based on the household’s demographics and location, a targeted replacement ad is sent to said smart TV where it is then seamlessly inserted into the ad pod instead of the ad that is on the linear stream and it all works perfectly in real time. Even if the viewer changes the channel mid ad.

So, a live test is the best way to prove that the technology is real, that it works outside of a controlled environment and that it’s likely to be the future of linear TV advertising, given that Nielsen and others are also working on similar solutions.

It matters too because the ability to have addressable advertising options on linear national ads has taken on increased importance due to the pandemic: brands want to be able to send different ads to regions that are under lockdown than the ones they send to regions that are not, and it’s not like that’s happening on any kind of an organized, predictable schedule.

Thus, the desire to target different ads to different households has become pretty universal, and if all goes well, Project OAR will roll out commercially in the fourth quarter of this year.

So, it’s all getting very real, very soon.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Project OAR, Nielsen and anyone else who is working on this technology, scale is everything. I know you already know that, but the easier you can make it for agencies and brands, the better.

If you’re a TV OEM and you’re not yet on board, now would be a really good time. (Right now, Project OAR is running on more than 10 million opted-in VIZIO TVs.) Especially if the live tests prove that the technology works. Viewers may not love advertising, but they love advertising that is irrelevant to them even less, so it’s in your interest to be on the right side of history here.

If you’re a brand, this is a great way to test out addressable advertising and understand what it can do for your brand now, so you’re not playing catch-up later.