HBO Will Be Sold Without Cable

hbogo-logoI’ve reported before that it may be possible to stream HBO without paying for cable. That is, to pay for HBO GO — iPad/Internet version of HBO — without having to shell out for monthly TV service. This was no more than a mere rumor it seems.

This week, however, HBO announced  they will begin to sell HBO as a broadband streaming service. This means that sometime next year consumers will be able to buy HBO GO directly from TimeWarner, HBO’s parent company, without having to purchase it through their cable provider. This streaming service would be similar to Netflix where you pay a monthly subscription fee directly to TimeWarner.  (I don’t know whether this will be available in countries other than the US when it launches.)

Presumably TimeWarner is offering this service in response to the staggering piracy of HBO’s top show, Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones piracy set a world record last spring. The Purple Wedding episode had 1.5 million people downloading it on the first day after it aired.

Right now, journalists are speculating HBO will try to release the service some time next year. I’d wager HBO will try to release it before the next season of Game of Thrones to reduce online piracy.

For people like me who pretty much pay for cable TV only to get HBO, this sounds like a godsend.  There are, however, a few catches:

  • One media outlet, The Information, is reporting that the service could cost as much as $15/month (USD), roughly $4-$6 more than Netflix.
  • Cable providers may increase Internet-only rates to compensate for lost business if too many people begin to drop cable TV. (This is only speculation on my part.)

The other interesting aspect of the HBO GO service is that it might mean that HBO will be competing with Netflix and Amazon’s streaming service.

Offering the HBO GO service without a cable provider is tricky for HBO. Cables companies are the hand that feeds it. In the United States about 100 million households subscribe to cable TV packages. When HBO made the online service announcement this week, Time Warner executives told The Street that they are hoping to reach the 10 Million who only subscribe to broadband. What they didn’t say was that they don’t want to cannibalize the existing cable TV audience and have more people leave their cable TV service behind.


Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply October 18, 2014


    Besides the cost there’s the question is where they intend to market it to. I expect that a large number of the downloaders live outside the United States and I’ve seen the very high costs of a monopoly cited by a New Zealander for why he will illegally download shows and films instead.

    So is this going to be around enough of the world to have even a chance of convincing them to pay what’s still a higher price, or just the United States?

  • Reply October 18, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    I have no idea if they will market it elsewhere. When I checked, I didn’t see anything and I didn’t look beyond that. I would assume HBO would roll it out in other countries if they can iron out the kinks in the US. But, who knows?

    I think it is an interesting play on HBO’s part — and I like the idea of being able to drop cable TV. But, I don’t think it will reduce piracy very much. The thing about piracy is that the people pirating software, books, music, etc. aren’t necessarily customers that didn’t buy. There is more to whether somebody is willing to (or can) pay money for something than just its cost.

    This week there was also an announcement that CBS will start offering their TV shows as a $5.99/mth service. (See the US edition of The Guardian: All of this makes me wonder if cable TV providers are going to start to go the way of bricks-and-mortar video stores like Blockbuster.

  • Reply October 21, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I haven’t heard of any plans for Sky (the company that shows GoT in the UK) to do anything similar. Some of the programmes that start out on the paid for networks do end up on mainstream TV eventually (“Mad Men” and “The Sopranos” did though they weren’t exactly my cup of tea). Unfortunately I do not have enough friends with Sky to be able to beg a visit watch of all the shows that are only on subscription networks (or if I did I think I would soon lose such friends by wearing out my welcome). It’s a difficult matter. I think if downloading is possible it will be done – that’s just human nature. Then I guess revenue that HBO lose by such downloading might be able to be ploughed back into the series (if they did receive it) for CGI effects/casting of more minor characters/a couple or three extra episodes per season. Although I think the CGI is pretty impressive anyhow.

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