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‘Veronica Mars’ Mess Extends Troubling Trend: App Mishaps

HBO Go 'True Detective' crash, ABC Oscar live stream snafu among other recent gaffes

Another day, another techno fiasco in Hollywood.

For the third consecutive weekend, a high-profile example of digital distribution of premium content went kablooey.  The most recent instance was the glut of glitches encountered by Kickstarter donors to the long-awaited release of “Veronica Mars.”

Instead of being treated to an unprecedented day-and-date glimpse of the movie they paid $35 to see in their home at the same time it was released in theaters, so many of them encountered problems retrieving their digital copy from WB-owned app Flixster and the studio-backed digital locker Ultraviolet that the studio began offering refunds.

The “Mars” meltdown occurred just one week after another branch of Time Warner, HBO, was so overwhelmed by the volume of subscribers seeking out the season finale of “True Detective” that its digital gateway HBO Go was rendered inaccessible. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said days later that HBO Go would be fixed to make sure it never happened again.

And then there was an outage suffered two weeks ago by the Watch ABC app, which lost the live stream of the Academy Awards. Again, the app failure was blamed on popular demand.

It all used to be so simple: Consumer presses a button on a remote control, or buys a theater ticket, and, voila!, entertainment is consumed seamlessly. Now apps are starting to develop a bad habit of fouling up what once seemed a rather straightforward transaction.

We are not in the America Online-dialup era; it’s 2014.  The world is undergoing a sea change in entertainment distribution, from traditional delivery vehicles to an app-based world.When a consumer taps on an app, it needs to function properly. Full stop. 

There’s no one underlying reason for all these mishaps. If anything, it probably has something to do with media companies not moving fast enough to meet the increasing scale of audiences coming to them on digital platforms. When there’s too many customers, that’s a high-class problem–but it’s still a very serious problem.

Warner Bros. will argue, as it did in its statement in the wake of the “Veronica Mars” outcry, that the “vast majority” of downloads worked fine. That’s undoubtedly true, but as long as there is a minority significant enough to sound their displeasure, size doesn’t matter. Social media tends to distort the scale of any problem by giving anyone a soapbox.

What’s particularly painful to watch was that before this weekend, “Veronica Mars” was providing as good a case study as you’ll find of a major industry entity engaging effectively at length in a very direct relationship with consumers. To fall down at the last leg of the race just casts a cloud over all the great work that preceded the screw-up.

Take note, Hollywood: Conditioning users to expect erratic performance from apps is bad business, plain and simple. Hopefully this latest rash of mistakes is giving everyone pause. Let’s end the era of errors before it starts.

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