HBO Admits That Perhaps Cable-Free Access Might Possibly Make Sense One Day, Maybe

from the with-great-reservation dept

Slowly but surely, HBO seems to be softening on that whole “internet” thing that everyone keeps asking them to look into. We recently noted that they’ve acknowledged the need to make shows like Game of Thrones more widely available online for the international market, and now Reuters reports rumblings of corollary realization: offering HBO Go as a standalone service without a cable package might be a good idea. Or at least it’s crossed their minds.

“Right now we have the right model,” [HBO Chief Executive Richard] Plepler told Reuters on Wednesday evening at the Season 3 premiere of HBO’s hit TV show “Game of Thrones.” “Maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve.”

Plepler said late Wednesday that HBO GO could be packaged with a monthly Internet service, in partnership with broadband providers, reducing the cost.

Customers could pay $50 a month for their broadband Internet and an extra $10 or $15 for HBO to be packaged in with that service, for a total of $60 or $65 per month, Plepler explained.

“We would have to make the math work,” he added.

The folks at HBO seem intent on letting the world know that they know these demands exist—they’re not stupid or blind, they just happen to be making a lot of money with things the way they are, thank you very much. But while there’s often a lot of sense to the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality, the record and film industries serve as illustrative examples of why it may not be a great approach for content companies faced with new technologies. It’s easier to experiment when you’ve got money, and HBO could be using these successful times to start piloting and ultimately launching an online-only service that is superior to the competition, both legitimate and otherwise. If they wait until the growing cable-cutter movement actually necessitates the shift, they could end up like those other industries—dragging their heels until someone else steps in to do the hard work (iTunes, Netflix), or offering ersatz late-to-the-game products of their own (Ultraviolet, Hulu).

Still, it’s good to know that it’s occurred to them. As for the idea of bundling it with ISP subscriptions, while it makes less sense than offering something to everyone who wants it, it’s actually not a bad first step for a company that relies so heavily on partnerships with cable providers (who also happen to be ISPs). However, depending on how such a plan was implemented, it could raise a lot of issues around net neutrality, and could lead to a bundling problem that’s just as bad as exists now with cable—especially if it’s successful at first, and the providers try to pile on with all kinds of other content subscriptions. Since HBO is obviously going to take its sweet time with any online-only strategy, hopefully it at least realizes that solving the cord-cutting problem is a better goal than renewing and postponing it.

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Comments on “HBO Admits That Perhaps Cable-Free Access Might Possibly Make Sense One Day, Maybe”

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Ninja (profile) says:

How hard is it to put up a subscription service for all? If it fails or if it’s not worth the effort simply pull the plug. Warn all subscribers that it’s a test service and it may be terminated anytime. Or if you like bundling stuff partner with netflix and offer your content for extra $ per month, the structure is already there. Then if uber successful offer the content standalone in your site. There are all sorts of possibilities and testing does not hurt.

If you are as successful as HBO you can do it. If the cable operators freak out well, there’s plenty of space to advertise and encourage cord cutting 😉

Designerfx (profile) says:

Re: Re:

exactly. I don’t even watch TV anymore but I could easily see myself paying a subscription cost for access to HBO without cable. It’s the cable I don’t care about, not as much the HBO. Not to mention that it’s easily more money for HBO as bandwidth is incredibly cheap, and that they could have gasp global reach.

Until they decide to actually offer this standalone, I’ll just continue to get episodes via alternate means.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not to mention that it’s easily more money for HBO as bandwidth is incredibly cheap, and that they could have gasp global reach.

What I don’t understand is why they don’t team up with an existing system (Netfix, Hulu) to peddle their channel. Use someone who is already in the market instead of creating your own confusing service. It isn’t like Netfix/Hulu and the other systems don’t already have the capability of handling subscriptions and they are already what the consumer is familiar with. Hell, even iTunes would be a start.

I am good with forking projects, but only when you provide better service than the other project can provide. HBO GO seems like a solution in want of a problem, and HBO could reduce their costs significantly by using existing technologies instead of rolling their own.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually, creationists believe in evolution as it relates to “evolve or die”. They believe that the members of the species that are not fit will die off and the ones that are more fit will survive.

“short lived in the scheme of things”

Short-lived? Creationists have been around for thousands of years and involved every culture on earth. The “short-lived” belief is evolution.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I think he means the latest iteration of creationists, the ones who have access to the science yet reject it. There’s nothing special about Isaac Newton being a ‘creationist’ – so was everyone else, as no-one knew any ‘better’. But creationist favourite Dr Steve Austin? He has no excuse. These are the ‘new world’ creationists.

PT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not only that, but they’re available within minutes of an episode airing anywhere. It’s possible for a guy on the West Coast to download and watch an entire episode before it even starts to air in his local time zone. Consider the appeal of that for someone who has to be up for work before 5am the next morning. It’s convenience they would pay for.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Interesting to juxtapose a paywall may be going up:

That’s some epic win. If the MAFIAA is wise they’ll hop in and offer their content on paid channels with some freebies to attract customers. Should be a serious hit in movie;tv series “piracy”.

From the article:

YouTube is advising its current partners to consider carefully how their existing audience will react. Most have spent years building up a base of free subscribers through hard work and cross-promotion. Can they produce content worth paying for?

I’m afraid many will fail to do it right here. For Youtube it’ll be a smashing success. For the content providers it all depends. It’s yet one more channel for the artists to make money!

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Interesting to juxtapose a paywall may be going up:

I’m afraid many will fail to do it right here. For Youtube it’ll be a smashing success. For the content providers it all depends. It’s yet one more channel for the artists to make money!

If what they want is priced properly to the value, I’d go for it as a consumer (provided they removed the advertising, unlike Hulu’s pay us for free content and we’ll still give you the same commercials model, but then again, I still have a Hulu Plus account and still pay each month, so apparently it isn’t enough to annoy me.)

I’d buy into subscriptions for Nerdist/Geek & Sundry because I know those guys make good material, and I am willing to support them, as with RoosterTeeth, MinutePhysics and HISHE. But anything more than a couple bucks a year is probably too much for most folks. Hell, I’d even throw a little money towards collegehumor.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Interesting to juxtapose a paywall may be going up:

I’m afraid many will fail to do it right here. For Youtube it’ll be a smashing success. For the content providers it all depends. It’s yet one more channel for the artists to make money!

Of course, Google has done this before. They used to have “Google Video” which launched as a pay-for-video (with DRM) service around the same time that YouTube came about.

Guess which one people used? Right. And that’s why Google had to pay nearly $2 billion for YouTube a year later and then shut down Google video.

Trying to do the same thing again… well… good luck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Interesting to juxtapose a paywall may be going up:

If YouTube chooses to do so, sure. People who wish to support it will. People who don’t will look elsewhere. It’s the same business principle you see everywhere.

I’m not sure how this is supposed to be significant to anyone, aside from the loopy lube boy trying to scream the usual “GOOGLE FLARGHLE BLARG”.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is an issue that will have to be dealt with. If every single company out there charges for a subscription it’ll stop working properly. That’s why associating with some service might be a good idea. Or offer content for download for very few bucks with an option of subscription for those who want it.

The market is evolving and adapting. It’s interesting to watch it developing!

Dave Xanatos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not necessarily the monthly subscription. I’m actually fine with being able to pay just for the ‘channels’ I want. It’s more that they are all separate with their own apps or websites. It’s a pain to try to go back and forth between them. I’d subscribe to more than just Netflix if I could get them all to just be embedded in the media center app of my choice.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

The end of cable

I understand their reluctance because it would mean the end of cable TV. Since cable began people have wanted ala carte service where people could pick and choose which channels they pay for.

If HBO did this, the other major cable channels would follow suit, and cable as it is now would crumble. And I think that’s a good thing, but it will put a lot of people out of work, esp. those on little seen channels.

And what will happen next? HBO will start adding “channels” to it’s subscription to make it more attractive. You’ll have HBO movies, HBO originals, HBO documentaries, HBO for women, HBO reality. You’ll have a dozen ESPNs. Discovery and the Learning Channel and History Channel will partner to form the Education Network.

The old cable TV monolith will become a dozen or so different subscriptions, all of them very much like the one cable you used to pay for, but there will no longer be one place to get everything.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:


The most disturbing part about this is the HBO perspective that ISPs are just like cable networks. They seem to be under the impression that they can just barter a deal where they can bundle their service with a broadband offering.

Ummmm no. Just tack on an additional $10 – $15 per month for HBO content? Maybe just maybe they are overvaluing their content. Sooooo HBO thinks that their content alone is worth more than everything on Netflix and worth entering into a contract with a broadband provider.

It’s this overvaluing of content which is driving the cord cutting.

NaBUru38 (profile) says:

It’s just business for them. When executives start to believe that launching an online-only service will be profitable, they will do the switch. It’s matter of time, that is, some things will have to change before it happens. Companies will have to change, consumers will have to change, technology will have to change, laws will have to change. (I’m talking from the perspective of company executives and owners, not mine.)

aidian says:

All the cord cutting in the world won’t change anything as long as the ISP market is a monopoly. Comcast/TWC/Whoever will get their average revenue per user one way or the other, and if that means they just jack up prices for internet access or cap/meter/gouge they’ll be just fine doing it. Actually make things easier for them — no more negotiations with content providers ever couple of years, no more fights over retrans fees and carriage, no more getting muscled into carrying ABC Family because their customers want ESPN.

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