Want to get HBO without having to pay for an expensive tier of cable or satellite programming? That is what many would like; in fact, it’s the largest request right now, to get the popular pay channel essentially unbundled. The network has not been very forthcoming with a solution. That is, until this week.
Everyone knows it should happen, and finally HBO is considering that it needs to. Right now, to get HBO, as well as the streaming mobile and web service HBO Go, you need to have a current subscription to cable television or satellite TV. Unbundling HBO and offering it as a separate service, available to people without cable or satellite, cord cutters, seems the next logical step. Although the network has not been very vocal about the step everyone wants it to take, last week HBO's Chief Executive Richard Plepler finally mulled it over in public. Being interviewed by Reuters about the season 3 premiere of HBO’s hot series “Game of Thrones,” Plepler noted that the math would have to work, they would need to work out the details, but there could be a plan that works.
The plan would still have a catch, however. HBO could partner not with cable companies specifically but with broadband providers. HBO and HBO Go would be a $10 or $15 upgrade along with subscribing to basic broadband service. This could be a hit with consumers, as now they have to spend a lot more to get dozens or hundreds of channels they may not even be interested in, just to get HBO. Although they still would have to get a package from a major provider, in the end it still would be a less expensive alternative. Plus, it would be one step closer to getting HBO without having to pay for a large television provider channel tier.
HBO no doubt can see the writing on the wall. The era of premium pay channels could be winding down to a close. Internet-only competition such as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix are working to become “the Next HBO,” and are gunning for that marketshare. All are creating original programming so consumers will sign up for a relativity low monthly fee, typically less than $10. HBO has a lot of coals in the fire with many hit shows, so getting HBO is worth it for many. But it does have the advantage of having years of development. Internet-only networks have catching up to do, but they are going full speed ahead.
This is the year when your favorite non-network show could be on Amazon, Hulu or Netflix, and not on HBO. With many companies trying to be the next HBO, HBO is in turn trying to be the next internet company. But that jump is a bigger chasm for it. HBO cannot turn its back on traditional cable and satellite distribution partners. Undercutting them with a $8-per-month HBO channel that requires little else would not make a lot of companies happy. So, the logical step is to partner with broadband — that way, it can help serve the millions of viewers without HBO (and who want it) and still stay in step with huge conglomerates such as Comcast and Time Warner cable, which also, by the way, provide broadband Internet services.
It’s one small step for HBO, but one giant leap for untethering premium pay channels from the walled garden that is cable and satellite television. HBO may be now publicly pondering the move, but it does need to move fast, as the next several HBOs are already in full motion and racking up viewership.