when the pros fail us

I’m curious why the good people at HBO have such a hard time getting the podcast right for Real Time with Bill Maher. After all, putting out a podcast every week is something that people regularly do from their bedrooms. Even NPR can do it. Yet it’s seemingly beyond the reach of the world’s most successful premium cable channel. Check out the comments page on iTunes — for every comment about the content of the show, there are three complaining about download problems, episodes that cut out after 17 minutes, mysterious iTunes demands for “authorization” for the show, episodes not being uploaded on time, etc., etc., etc.

Some theories:

– They’ve assigned the job to a 20-year-old intern because he’s the only one who knows how to do it. And he doesn’t give a shit.

HBO is thumbing its nose at the podcast audience for wanting, essentially, something for nothing.

– The vast right-wing conspiracy is using the NSA and awesome satellite technology to jack up the show because Bill Maher is such a pot-smoking leftie.

Of the three, I suspect the second comes closest, especially since it could logically encompass the first. HBO has no real interest in putting out this podcast except as a kind of ad for the TV show and HBO generally. Whereas podcasts like The McLaughlin Group have lengthy ad segments mixed into them, and NPR’s shows are funded by the public and therefore ought to be available for free in every medium possible, there’s no revenue stream to pay for Bill Maher’s podcast. Like Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s famous show, it’s just a gift to the public.

This is jolly nice of them, of course, and as advertising it works — I would be interested in subscribing to HBO if (1) I had a TV and (2) I could afford cable. But the fact is that I’m neither paying for the show nor generating ad income for them. So why should they care if it’s plagued with technical problems? Nobody’s going to unsubscribe from HBO on cable because the podcast is shabbily produced — if anything, Apple and iTunes will probably take most of the heat, although I find it impossible to believe that a service that delivers every other podcast in the world without incident somehow keeps screwing this one up. For the most part, people aren’t even going to unsubscribe from the podcast. I haven’t. There’s no downside to HBO doing this badly, unprofessionally, neglectfully. To do it at all is entirely upside for them, turning a sunk cost into an advertising opportunity. I can’t blame them. But it’s damn irritating.

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