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HBO Max frustrates subscribers with glitchy streaming tech

For Matt Hershberger, HBO Max isn’t just a streaming service. It’s a babysitter.

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Hershberger has two young kids, ages 1 and 3, and relies on the app to keep them entertained at home while he does chores and changes diapers. But lately, he said, HBO Max has been “a train wreck.” When he opens the app on his Roku, it typically crashes three times before successfully streaming an episode of “Sesame Street” or “Looney Tunes” — much to the frustration of his impatient toddler.

“Sometimes the sound goes way forward and the picture tries to catch up, then it crashes,” said Hershberger, 35, a librarian who lives in Red Bank, New Jersey. “It’s easily the worst app we’ve ever had on the Roku TV.”

Hershberger is not the only irritated customer. For months, subscribers have been complaining about HBO Max’s technical shortcomings, particularly on Roku — one of the most popular streaming devices, with 54 million active accounts. A post in December on Roku’s community forum about how HBO Max freezes and crashes now stretches 37 pages long and is filled with more than 360 replies. Similar angry comments from HBO Max subscribers have flooded Twitter and Reddit.

HBO Max is hardly the first streaming service to run into such struggles. Building a flawless app is hard, if not impossible, in part because developers need to make the video work seamlessly on multiple platforms, said Dan Rayburn, a streaming media expert and principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan. Streaming outages sometimes happen when large numbers of viewers try to tune in to a live sporting event all at once. Just recently, users of Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, lost video and audio during a World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. event.

There’s no way to determine precisely how often streaming services crash, or whether HBO Max does so more than its peers, because media companies don’t release such data publicly, Rayburn said. Disruptions may be an inevitable part of the streaming era because the infrastructure of the internet is not as reliable as traditional television, he said.

“As consumers, we give up some reliability when it comes to streaming services, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Rayburn said.

Still, the number of complaints online about HBO Max on Roku is notable, Rayburn said, and both companies appear to share some of the blame. HBO Max is responsible for the development of its app, he said, but “why is Roku allowing HBO Max on its system if it doesn’t meet the requirements of a good user experience?”

A Roku spokesman referred questions to HBO Max. A post on its community forum from someone identified as an employee suggests that users contact HBO Max if the other apps on their Roku are working properly. em>Bloomberg

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