(Off Topic) How (I think) I got free HBO for life

If you’re an AT&T customer with access to HBO, you may have noticed problems signing into HBO Go during July 2019. It appears to be a widespread problem, though I don’t know if everyone is affected or just a group of customers. Either way, I was one of them. After several chats with support, I was given a new account that just has HBO associated with it and no payment information. When trying to get clarity if this was a temporary account or if it would expire, I was told it wouldn’t expire. I’m not suggesting anyone else attempt to harass support for a free account for HBO and doing so would be unethical and likely cause AT&T to no longer allow this option for others.

Backstory

I don’t use HBO Go often. Honestly, I had a 3 month free trial when I signed up for U-Verse, only watched Game of Thrones on HBO, then never touched it again. Well, until I heard Chernobyl was worth watching. When my 3 month trial expired, I used HBO Go. This is because I am also an AT&T wireless customer with an unlimited plan that includes AT&T Watch TV and HBO. So once HBO for my cable plan expired, I could still stream it.

Since I don’t use HBO that often, I’m not exactly sure when there was a problem signing into HBO Go. I discovered it 2 weeks ago while on vacation. While sitting in our room at night, winding down before bed, I thought I’d see what was available on HBO. I had to sign into HBO Go on my phone and tablet again, only I kept seeing an error every time I did. Being on vacation, contacting support wasn’t a likely option and neither was troubleshooting it. When we got home a few days later, I tried again from home. I was seeing the same error: “Something went wrong.”

I meant to do some research and see if anyone found a solution, if others were having the same problem, etc. but I kept getting tied up with other things. Then I saw someone on Reddit complain about the problem. Others commented that they were having the problem too. Then I finally looked into it more myself. There were dozens of posts on AT&T’s forums complaining about the problem. One of those post responses dated July 1st indicated that this was a known problem and it was being worked on. When I read this post, it was near the end of July and there was still no solution.

Support

I didn’t do my research before contacting support the first time, so I wasn’t aware of how long and widespread this issue seemed to be. The first time I contacted support, I was put through typical troubleshooting steps:

  • Uninstall/re-install the HBO Go app

  • Change the password

  • Support does mysterious things to my account acting like they’re working on it

  • Etc.

Nothing worked. Then I was transferred to DirecTV Now support. I was a little confused - I didn’t have DirecTV Now. I didn’t even have DirecTV at all. After some chatting, I learned that DirecTV Now support handles all of the streaming services. Almost immediately, this support specialist informed me that this was a known problem and it was being worked on. He couldn’t provide me with an ETA when it would be resolved either.

The next day or two, I started looking into the problem. That’s when I noticed it had been going on all month. Being a tech-savvy person myself and having worked to some degree with databases and large data management systems, I was very concerned to see this had been going on for about a month with no solution. Infuriated, I contacted support again and tried to raise a flag to the extent of the problem. I shared forum threads and pointed out dates to highlight the length of this issue. The first specialist I chatted with claimed to be writing an official ticket and talking with their web development team as we spoke. I remain skeptical, but that’s the information I had. But that also tells me that for a month, this issue wasn’t officially acknowledged or documented.

Then I get transferred to DirecTV Now support again. Once again, I’m told immediately that it’s a known issue and it’s being worked on. I told the specialist that I was told the same information 2 days prior and wanted to know what was happening and how much longer it would take. Again, those questions couldn’t be answered. The most I was told was that they were almost finished resolving the issue and to try again 24 hours later. I did, same problem.

The Workaround

I waited another 2 days and decided to contact support once more. This time I skipped the main support team and requested to chat with DirecTV Now support right away. Once again, I was told it’s a known issue being worked on. Once again, no ETA. This is August 1st when I’m chatting with support over the issue. It’s been 2 weeks now since I was affected by this problem and a full month since I saw a forum post acknowledging the problem.

After pressing the support specialist, politely, for information on what’s going on and when it’ll be resolved with no useful information to provide me, an alternative solution was presented. The support specialist offered to create a DirecTV Now account for me and add HBO to that account for free. In a nutshell, I was getting a DirecTV Now account with zero streaming channels, but they were adding HBO to it for free. Support sent me a link to create an account and told me to stop at the screen to enter payment information. Then the support specialist looked for my username which I had just created and did some behind the scenes magic to add HBO to it. I tried to press for more information regarding the account. I asked how long the account would be active for and was told it would be ready immediately. I asked if it was a temporary solution until they fix the ability to sign into HBO Go with an AT&T Watch TV account and I was told I could still use Watch TV. Finally, I explicitly asked when the new account would expire and I was told it would not expire. Granted, I still don’t have a clear answer whether or not I will have HBO on this new DirecTV Now account forever, but it sure sounded like it.

Learn from my Mistakes

Creating this new account should have been easy, but it wasn’t without problems. Whenever I tried to log into DirecTV Now or HBO Go, it thought I didn’t have an account or it thought I didn’t have HBO. I would either see an error from HBO Go that I’m not authorized or DirecTV Now would ask me to subscribe, as if I don’t have access to anything.

It turned out that you need to first sign into DirecTV Now and accept the terms and agreements, which I did from my PC, for the account to be verified. However, because I also have an AT&T Watch TV account with the same email address and I had previously been logged into AT&T Watch TV on my PC, the 2 accounts were being confused for one another.

I first had to go to AT&T Watch TV’s website and log out. Then I returned to the DirecTV Now website and logged out. Then I logged back into DirecTV, accepted the terms and agreements, checked my account settings, and saw HBO was listed as my package. I then tried to stream something from HBO from DirecTV Now and found that it was no longer asking me to subscribe. Finally, I tried to log into HBO Go using my new DirecTV account and it worked just fine.