HBO joins the 21st century – 5 takeaways

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HBO, the US premium cable channel that produces the likes of Game of Thrones and True Detective has just announced that it will soon be launching a version of its on-demand product “HBO Go” that doesn’t require US customers to have a cable subscription and a cable HBO subscription on top of that.

That’s interesting to us over here in Britain for a few reasons – here’s five takeaways from the announcement.
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1) Does that mean we can get HBO Go in Britain?

Maybe! Apparently the company will be looking to launch HBO Go internationally – which is great news for consumers of high-brow, big-budget telly, as it means we’ll hopefully get access to all of HBO’s shows on demand.

Obviously there could be a tonne of rights issues that get in the way of HBO simply opening the floodgates to British credit cards, and it could lead to a situation where HBO Go UK and HBO Go US have slightly different catalogues of programmes – a bit like Netflix. But you never know.

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2) What does this mean for Sky’s big money HBO deal?


A few years ago Sky launched its Sky Atlantic channel: The thinking was basically that they’ve attracted plenty of sports fans, but how can they convince the pompous, Guardian reading middle classes to fork over their cash? To ensure Atlantic had some attractive programmed Sky inked an exclusive deal with HBO, giving it a first look at any new HBO shows – only if Sky passes could HBO sell to other channels.

Though HBO has a relatively small audience in the States, the audience it attracts tend to be more influential and powerful than average. Showing advertising to people like that can be hard – so the HBO deal was just the lure that the company needed.

With a wider launch of HBO Go, and the rising popularity of streaming services it is conceivable that next time the deal comes up for renewal, Sky could be told to swivel and HBO could go it alone. HBO has huge brand recognition over here (at least amongst the target audience) as a shorthand for quality TV.

The only problem for HBO if it wanted to do this is that the Sky deal lasts until 2020, which is a long time in technology and media.
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3) Should Netflix be worried?


Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said when it launched Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards remake that Netflix needs to become HBO, before HBO becomes Netflix.

With today’s announcement HBO is a step closer to becoming Netflix.

Like Netflix, HBO initially started out showing films made by others, before turning its hand to original programming. Could we see an independent HBO Go start buying up the rights to more stuff from other content providers? If HBO wants to see how lucrative such a service could be it only needs to turn to, umm, Netflix. In fact, following the announcement Netflix shares have already dropped a little.

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4) Has HBO just solved the problem of piracy of its shows?

Every year we seem to see statistics that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on TV – and part of the reason for this is that to watch it legally straight after the episode has been broadcast you need to live in the US, have a cable subscription, and an HBO sub on top of that.

In Britain, to watch legally it is the case of having a (pricey) Sky subscription and waiting until the day after.

Imagine if HBO were to put Game of Thrones on HBO Go simultaneously with the first broadcast in the States for, say, a tenner a month. I’m pretty sure many users would choose to take the legal option instead. In fact – Sky has proved this works through its Now TV service, which doesn’t require a satellite dish. Why wouldn’t HBO just cut out the middleman?
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5) Is it a coincidence that Apple has a big event tomorrow?


Right, it’s conspiracy theory time. Apple is holding a big press event tomorrow (Thursday), where in addition to new iPads (which would be ideal for watching videos on…), it is widely rumoured to be planning a new Apple TV.

You don’t think that maybe HBO Go might be turning up as one of the supported services do you? Is it perhaps too much to hope Apple has done a U2-style deal to give all customers a year subscription or something? (Probably).

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6) Why is HBO axeing The Newsroom?

And yes, this is the most bewildering thing at all. Yes, the show is just actors delivering Aaron Sorkin essays on politics but I love it. Why axe the show? It can’t cost that much can it?

Please keep making it… for me?

James O’Malley
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