HBO Now's Apple Exclusive Ensures The 'Most Pirated Show On TV' Stays That Way

from the great-Apple-wall-of-the-north dept

For years now, customers have been begging HBO to offer a standalone streaming service. Instead, customers got HBO Go, a streaming service only accessible if you can prove you have traditional cable. HBO Go is part of the cable and broadcast industry’s “TV Everywhere” initiative — or the industry’s misguided belief that you can thwart cord cutting by building giant walled gardens firmly tethered to traditional cable. Of course this does nothing to actually thwart cord cutting, and only drives customers unwilling to pay cable’s endlessly-soaring rates to piracy.

For many years, HBO was hesitant to offer a truly stand alone streaming service, fearing disruption of the cozy, promotion and subsidy-laden relationships it has with cable operators. Late last year HBO finally announced it would offer a standalone HBO service, but didn’t provide any hard details.

The good news? HBO has formally announced that it’s launching “HBO Now” next month for a $15 monthly fee. The bad news (for some)? The service is going to be an Apple exclusive at launch, meaning that while you can access the service via iOS devices, you’re out of luck if you’d like to use the service on a game console, Roku player, Chromecast, or any of the myriad other competing streaming devices. And while you will be able to watch HBO Now content via the new website and any old browser, you can apparently only register for the service using Apple’s HBO Now app and an iOS device.

This resulted in many people correctly noting customers are being herded from one walled garden to another:

The press release can’t be bothered to mention this, but the exclusive is only for three months, after which HBO Now will be made available on all the usual platforms. Cable providers may also jump in and pitch the service, though many will likely worry they’ll only act to cannibalize existing cable subscribers. In other words, we’re not exactly talking about the end of the world here, and HBO Now is still part of a welcome sea change toward more standalone streaming options in 2015. If you’re still annoyed, just pretend Apple users are beta-testing the service and ironing out the wrinkles ahead of your arrival this summer.

Still, while the exclusive surely nets Apple a nice cash payout, being greeted by a giant wall isn’t a great first HBO Now brand impression for Android, Xbox, Playstation, Chromecast or Roku users. Being greeted by that same giant wall also isn’t going to do much to keep the “most pirated TV show on television” from being downloaded via BitTorrent. HBO Now’s still a welcome change, it’s just a shame its market entry has to be polluted by unnecessary, annoying boundaries just to fatten Apple’s wallet.

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Companies: apple, hbo

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Comments on “HBO Now's Apple Exclusive Ensures The 'Most Pirated Show On TV' Stays That Way”

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Shmerl says:

Browsers and DRM?

Any idea if the browser version uses DRM (I bet it does)? And if so, what browsers / operating systems are mandated?

The whole current video industry reeks of lock-in in one way or another. Only truly DRM-free solutions are not tying the user to a set of “approved” devices, systems and applications. And getting video DRM-free is close to impossible (Headweb doesn’t count since it’s not global).

Anonymous Coward says:

Trying to look at the bright side here. The three month exclusivity should prevent the service from being crushed under an immediate inrush of people. As a soft launch limiting to apple isn’t completely dumb and probably transferred a nice chunk of change from Apple to HBO.

Still doesn’t have much relevance for me.

Dave (profile) says:

Re: Re: Roundly trounced?

Roku cracked 10 million in total units sold last September. Apple is up to 25 million Apple TV units sold, and more than half of those are the current 3rd-gen model. I would hardly call that “roundly trounced”.

Plus, Netflix + Hulu Plus + HBO Now + AirPlay will be compelling enough for plenty of people over the next 3 months. (Might be a different case come the holidays, though.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The market and beta test what the Scandinavian launch was about. No this is solely about grabbing the cash from Apple’s pockets by granting them an exclusive scoop. HBO knows going exclusive to Apple is a bad deal in the long run but they were able to limit it to 3 months and still get the cash by timing it so the Game of Thrones season release would only be for the Apple devices. All in all a pretty smart move on HBO’s part.

JBDragon says:

Re: Re:

Ya, I don’t think it’s that big of a issue. WOW, a whole 3 month wait or whatever it is. If you’re already pirating HBO, I really don’t think you then had plan to start paying for it if only Apple didn’t have this deal. That’s really pretty laughable.

This also has no effect on HBOGo which still works on all those devices if you’re a cable subscriber with HBO service or someone you know gave you their log in credentials to get free service.

HBONow works with a Web browser, I don’t know if that means you could access it on Android on Chrome and then Chromecast it to your HDTV that way??? I do think this is a way to not get a flood of new people all at once. Or having to resort to a beta type service to limit the amount of people

Hell I have Apple TV’s, ROKU’s, Even a Amazon Fire Stick, not to mention all my many game Consoles. Seems I have a zillion streaming devices.

Uriel who changed browsers on his tablet says:

Re: Re: Television Machines

If by “television machine” you mean a device with a screen whose primary purpose is to stream video, I totally do not have one.

I stopped watching The Daily Show regularly years ago. I may watch the occasional youtube reference or This Week Tonight clip, but only when directedmby friends or blogs. Otherwise I read and play games for entertainment.

And given one of the topics that is covered here on TechDirt is the rising rate of cable cutters (among those who are not forced into a bundle by a Comcast monopoly), I suspect not all of those are Netflix junkies.

farooge (profile) says:

This is not bluster

I have a vague idea what’s on HBO (Game of Thrones??, Hunger Games? .. maybe) but I had planned on getting this service as soon as it was available mostly because I loathe ‘cable’ and wanted to support legitimate alternatives – but an APPLE exclusive? Are you kidding me? This post is the first time I learned how long it was neutered (3 months makes it _slightly_ less obnoxious). I’m not sure now (probably not). BTW: Deluge seems like a great alternative to uTorrent these days …

daggar (profile) says:

Re: Say what?

The Cable Company Has No Idea How Streaming Actually Works.

Doubtless they would love to get $180/year from people, but that’s not how streaming works. What will probably happen is people will pay $15-30, binge on whatever they want to see, then let it drop for several months until they want to binge again, if ever. Instead of roping people into a repeated payment that they don’t think about (like Netflix), they’ve priced themselves up enough that a lot of their potential repeat customers will become occasional customers.

JBDragon says:

Re: Say what?

I’m surprised they aren’t charging like $17.95 a month or more!!! I knew it would NEVER be cheaper then on Cable. Normal price on cable is around $15 a month. Some places you can get it cheaper in a bundle or a 6 month special deal price, but generally it’s $15. They don’t want the cable company’s to get pissed off if people drop HBO from them just to get it cheaper by streaming instead. HBO is still going to make far, far more money from cable, this these subscriptions for many years to come.

I get what you’re saying in comparison to Netflix which is a great deal. I really think it doesn’t make sense to pay for HBO every month unless you always have the channel on. If there’s only one or two shows yo watch, it’s cheaper to buy a season pass to stream or get on Disc later. I don’t have a problem watching a show 6 months later. it’s still NEW to me, does it really make much difference?

$180 for a year, or a couple season Passes or season discs which would be under $100. you know being a cable cutter I’m a huge fan of ‘The Walking Dead’ on AMC. I get Season passes from Amazon. The SD version, not HD, which is reasonable and still looks great and you can watch Monday after the new episode plays Sunday night. A day later and commercial free at watch when you want to.

Most of my TV I get for free from the Antenna. If you wait a little longer, you’ll find HBO programs on Amazon PRIME!!!

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Say what?

not big on prime, selection is underwhelming, and the ad model sucks, both as the idea of i PAY for content with cash-money, then i PAY for it AGAIN with them hijacking my eyeballs every 10-15 minutes…

AND their ads are
1. a LOT of crappy PSAs, and exxon feelgood propaganda, SOS different day…
2. i guess they just put them on a timer, because ‘normal’ teevee at least (not saying much) puts ads in natural breaks in the shows (or, rather, the shows are staged for those ‘natural’ breaks); prime just plops them in any old where… messed up a documentary interview i was watching the other day…
3. AND watching the stupid tail-chasing animation while the ad loads, and then the show reloads, is annoying…
i give prime 3 mehs…

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Say what?

well, the documentary (from docurama ‘channel’ ?) i was watching, forget the name, was about a guy going back home from the north to north carolina, and kind of investigating his family his story, which included a great grandfather being a rich tobacco farmer until he was wiped out (apparently from various eee-vil machinations of a rival tobacco farmer), and it was interupted about every 10-12 minutes for A. watching the tailchasing animations, B. 2-3 short-ish commercials for a minute or two, C. more tailchasing animation when the documentary came back on…

um, not sure how i can ‘prove’ that, without taking screenshots, whatever… so either i was lucidly hallucinating (which has never happened before, so i’m dismissing that), or they were showing commercials…

hell, that’s half the reason i hate going to freaking movie theaters, the damn commercials, and the endless previews…
show me a cartoon or two, then start the movie… THAT is the way dog almighty intended movies to be shown…

(oh, and have the ushers do summary executions of people who leave their cellyphones on in the movies…)

sock0pen says:

Re: Say what?

Here’s the thing, HBO Go is incredibly permissive on how many devices it allows on it. My friend gave me his log in, he said he’s given it out to about 10 people. I got his permission and gave it out to probably 5 others. So where Netflix only allows 2 devices at $8, HBO Go might be more worthwhile if you and a couple friends split that cost

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Say what?

Boggles my mind how they think $15 is a good price point when they offer just a fraction of the number of titles available via Netflix for about half that cost.

It depends what direction you look at it from. For someone who currently has nothing, $15 may not be that attractive. For someone currently paying $100/month or more for cable or satellite plus HBO, $15/month sounds fantastic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 90 days

Which is the same duration as the next Game of Thrones season. Apple is paying to force people to either watch with a friend, pirate, watch it over cable, or stream over an apple product if they want to share in the social aspects of the show as it airs. Obviously this is an important component for a large enough group that Apple thinks they can profit from this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 90 days

What Apple is buying (and make no mistake it is Apple that is paying HBO for this not the other way around) is the ability to market exclusivity even for a short period of time. It’s not about how much money Apple makes of the HBO signups so much as getting people rush out now for a new device after an Apple launch to feel like they are part of the “in” crowd. That’s a big part of Apple’s marketing strategy.

JBDragon says:

Re: Re: Re:2 90 days

It’s nothing that hasn’t been done many times in the past by a number of company’s!!! I don’t see it as a clear out of Apple TV’s. There’s been a $30 price cut, which is about time since the current version has been around for like 3 years now. It’s still far and above the #1 streaming device by far, with ROKU quite a bit behind in the #2 spot. I have both devices and many others.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

From Wikipedia: 1984 (advertisement): Intended message:

In his 1983 Apple keynote address, Steve Jobs read the following story before showcasing a preview of the commercial:

“[…] It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

Yeah, good job protecting that ideal there, Steve. At least the dystopic, industrial horror of the workers, you off-shored to China.

fairuse (profile) says:

Three words: marketing, target, age

This HBO deal is a marketing campaign to get HBO on iTunes. College kids.

What is missing:
NO Cinemax – OMG Banshee and Strike Back are orphans.

Disclaimer: I buy Comcast internet and cable TV. Two big screens attached to HD DVRs. I have all the premium packages, 1000 channels of stuff.

Sports not so much.

Online Xfinity is probably what Apple iThingy users wish they get via iTunes – NOPE.
I will say now that the Apple HBO deal will have content restrictions that make sure HBO via cable operators is unchanged – the short, Apple gets subset and windowing of start and expire dates on content will favor cable.

I could be worng[sic].

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh it’s a good deal for Apple too. They price their devices higher than their competitors too which means they have more margin and more money to spend on marketing stunts like this. It’s about selling the exclusivity of it all which is a big part of their marketing plan. Pay more and be part of the hip crowd that has the latest iThingy with special exclusive things you can only get on the iThingy.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Last I checked the GoT producers LIKED being "most pirated show evar"

I forget who and specifically what he said, but man, it was clear he was proud of it.

If I were to suppose in Socratic tradition that the HBO marketing / bean-counting folk weren’t entirely dim, they might regard the Game of Thrones high-piracy status as a good thing, an indicator that they, themselves, can point to about the quality of their product. So good it will turn you dishonest! or somesuch.

Looked at this way, it’s a good example of Masnick’s content is advertising notion. Or Here, kid, the first one’s free.

Again, that was supposing that HBO distribution knew what it was doing.

Dave (profile) says:

Not entirely sure I buy this argument.

I feel a strange urge to play devil’s advocate on this one — which I know is usually a bad idea on this site, but follow me on this…

Yes, people who just want to watch Game of Thrones and either refuse to pay or don’t want to watch any other HBO shows will continue seeding torrents. That’s not going away.


1.) Apple TV has already sold 25 million Apple TV units to date, and based loosely on the sales figures listed on Wikipedia, more than half those units appear to be the 3rd-generation model, which has not been jailbroken. That’s a pretty big installed base, and lowering the price on Apple TV ensures that base will grow. (It’s a blatant supply chain-emptying move by Tim Cook, yes, but most potential buyers won’t care that much.)

2.) Having more than one set-top box connected to a TV isn’t so far-fetched these days. I have both an Apple TV and a Roku 3. They do have some different uses — the Roku has Amazon Prime, Sling TV, and DIAL streaming, while the Apple TV has a superior podcast interface and AirPlay for certain iPad apps I like to use. I used to have a Chromecast as well. Given how cheap all these STBs and streaming sticks are now, it’s not so odd for cord-cutters to buy and use more than one.

3.) HBO Now’s value proposal goes beyond GoT. Think of all those other HBO series and movies that people might not have seen yet — The Wire, True Detective, Veep, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, etc. That’s a lot of binge-watching for not that much money. Sure, you can pirate all of them, but for $15/month, you can stream the whole kit and caboodle and not have to look at those soul-sucking porn ads. (Or maybe I’m the only guy who’s grown weary of computer-animated tits. You tell me.) Netflix streaming traffic overtook torrent traffic FOUR YEARS AGO. That proved people will pay for convenience. This is what HBO Now is offering, and it *will* be compelling to many who only use torrents because HBO hadn’t otherwise made it convenient. Does Apple exclusivity lessen that convenience for a few months? Sure, but the installed Apple TV base and the relatively low cost of entry *will* attract customers.

4.) This is a long play for HBO, and for its parent company, Time Warner, which licensed its Turner Broadcasting channels to Sling TV. By Labor Day, *all* those channels will be available on a *lot* of STBs and streaming sticks. Apple exclusivity is just a temporary move to help keep Comcast off its back for a while.

Also, apropos of nothing:

5.) At least one market research group (Parks Associates) has predicted that as many as 7 million people will get rid of cable TV once HBO Now becomes available. I don’t think it will be quite that high all at once, but let’s revisit that figure a year from now and see how close they got.

6.) None of this takes into account HBO Go password-sharing, which is also likely to rise with the premier of GoT season 5 — especially if cable companies still try to offer customers 3 months of free HBO. That might already be putting a dent in piracy without anyone examining it too closely. It’s certainly a reason why HBO Now exists in any form. If the market wasn’t there, HBO wouldn’t bother.

Anonymous Coward says:

Missed in the article, the Apple exclusiveness will end just before the end of the next season of Game of Thrones.

$15 a month is already expensive for someone only interested in Games of Thrones and nothing else. Allowing those people without Apple products in only right before the season ends guarantees those people will wait until Season 6 to sign up. I mean why sign up for just 1 month only to cancel it right away? That’s too much hassle.

Dave (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The people interested in GoT and nothing else will probably continue pirating. HBO is counting on that group being very, very small — especially given the sheer number of shows (True Detective, The Wire, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, etc.) that many will likely find binge-worthy. That’s HBO Now’s value proposal.

And it’s only a hassle to sign up and then cancel if you’re dealing with a cable company. It wasn’t nearly as bad when I did it with DishWorld and Hulu Plus.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

” it’s only a hassle to sign up and then cancel if you’re dealing with a cable company”

As I read it you will be dealing with a cable company or ISP if you’re not using an Apple device. The ‘web access’ that is mentioned on will only be available through ‘channel partners’, ie HBO is not interested in dealing with users and their credit cards directly. So we don’t yet know whether Comcast/Verizon etc will ever agree a deal and if so whether a monthly no-contract deal will be available and at what price (HBO clearly said they haven’t set the price yet but that it could be different for each partner). So, a newly discounted Apple TV (for those who have no Apple currently, like me) might turn out to be a cheaper deal than via other yet-to-be-announced ‘partners’ – we just don’t know yet.

eaving (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am largely in that game of thrones group. We cut the cord some time ago, and I was intending to toss HBO some money as much as a statement to the cable companies as anything else. Give them three months for GoT, possibly stick around past that depending on what else they have going on. As it is they have signaled to me they don’t want my money for another year.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Missed in the article, the Apple exclusiveness will end just before the end of the next season of Game of Thrones”

HBO Now launches just ahead of “Game of Thrones” newest season. From there it’s a three month exclusive. How is that “the Apple exclusiveness will end just before the end of the next season of Game of Thrones”?

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Huge Rabbit Hole

What a waste of bandwidth.

It will still be the #1 torrented video. Here’s why:
1. No bullshit

You need more reasons? That right there covers DRM, restricted app, must-buy-apple, must-suck-up-to-cable-company and whatever.

No bullshit.

I’m truly sorry HBO missed the boat on this one big time and this is leading TO ALL THESE FASCINATING LONG-WINDED DEBATES that are nothing more than rabbit holes.

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