NOW TV crashes during Game of Thrones Season 4 premiere; promises “gesture of good will”
Ivan Radford | On 08, Apr 2014
Update: NOW has now said it offer those affected “a gesture of good will”.
NOW crashed last night during the premiere of Game of Thrones Season 4.
The service allows people to stream Sky channels live as well as catch up on-demand. This year marks the first time that Game of Thrones has been available to watch legally online for non-Sky customers – a vital step for HBO and Sky following years in which Game of Thrones has reportedly been the most pirated TV show in the world.
The broadcaster’s decision not to release the show on DVD or VOD for up to 12 months after its initial release left many viewers with a gap in which they found it by other means. An Oatmeal comic famously shows a user trying to watch the show legally but being unable to, before resorting to piracy as the only option. Now, Sky and HBO have finally come up with a solution for British fans: NOW.
The service has been heavily promoted in the run-up to the premiere of Episode 1 of Season 4. Viewers, though, were greeted with this when they signed in to watch the 9pm broadcast live online:
“NOW is currently unavailable. Please check your network connection or head online to www.NOWTV.com for assistance.”
The episode was also shown at 2am on Monday, which NOW users were able to watch live without problems. After its morning broadcast, the show was added to the service’s catch-up library, meaning that users could watch it throughout the day – an unmitigated success for viewers and broadcasters alike. Until 9pm.
Attempts to watch the show on-demand during the platform’s downtime displayed the following error: “Oops! Something went wrong here. We’re working on it. Please check back later.”
Users across the UK flooded Twitter with reports of problems, which began at 9pm – as soon as people logged on to stream the programme live. A large number tweeted the error message “You’ve reached the maximum number of simultaneous streams on your account” despite only using one device to connect to the service.
The problems follow two similar crashes with HBO Go, which choked during the US finale of True Detective – and then again during the first episode of Game of Thrones Season 4 on Sunday night. Despite the cautionary examples set by American streaming services, though, Sky’s NOW suffered exactly the same problem: after years of too many people illegally trying to watch the show, now the problem was too many people legally trying to do so.
NOW initially advised users to reset their NOW boxes, or other devices, before going silent on social media until 9.28pm, when the following was tweeted: “We’re really sorry that some of you are having a few technical difficulties, we are working on it.”
NOW later updated its Twitter account with a link to the NOW Help forums, where this message was posted:
“We’re aware of a number of reports of NOW not working this evening. You might experience slow loading times or error messages which stop you from watching content.
“We’re investigating this as a matter of priority and will update you via this topic. To be updated when there’s news, click Topic Options and Subscribe.
“We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused and will update you as soon as possible.”
Approximately 45 minutes after the problems began, the NOW app started to work again. This was too late to watch the programme live, but the episode was still available on catch-up from its 2am premiere, meaning that Game of Thrones could finally be watched, legally, in the UK, without a 12-month Sky contract. While credit should be given for solving the problems so swiftly, three-quarters of an hour can be a long time in Westeros.
The situation could have been worse for NOW, but it needed to impress viewers who have become acclimatised to streaming the series illegally.
“Refunds for the month all round? Or just cancellation, since you can’t handle traffic surges?” tweeted Matthew Pettitt
“Hey @NOWTV loving how I’m unable to watch GOT because your app isn’t working. This is the one and only time I attempt to legally pay for tv,” tweeted Robert Welbourn.
Richard Brooks simply replied to Sky’s apologetic tweet: “muppets.”
With the start of a new service, there are always going to be teething problems. NOW launched in July 2012, but Game of Thrones is arguably the biggest event the platform has faced to date. After HBO Go’s similar issues and with Sky able to see how many have signed up for the service, their servers needed to be prepared for the demand. With the BBC planning to move to BBC Three to an online-only channel, not to mention the continued rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, this will not be the first time that broadcasters and video on-demand companies face high volumes of traffic. Online streaming is, at least partly, the future of TV. The present, though, has to prove it works.
NOW announced today that it would be offering some form of compensation:
“We’re incredibly sorry that customers viewing NOW experienced some disruption last night,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement on the site’s forums. “This is not an acceptable level of service for our customers.”
“We’re investigating the cause and will be contacting those affected with a gesture of good will.”
For now, UK viewers can watch the show on-demand: enough to get their Game of Thrones Season 4 fix. But next Monday, when the catch-up option for Episode 2 will not be there until after the 9pm broadcast has finished, more people will be trying to tune in live. NOW will face its real test then; if legal streaming is to win viewers over from a habit of illegal viewing, that’s a test it has to pass.
Last night was the first time that HBO’s Game of Thrones has been available to watch legally online for non-Sky customers. If the problems are not solved going forward, the broadcasters will be hoping that, for some viewers, it wasn’t the last. That would be a huge tragedy.