HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler announced at the Time Warner investor meeting that HBO will offer a stand-alone HBO streaming service in 2015. Plepler said, "That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO."
Previously, HBO had offered an Internet streaming option, HBO GO, that was only available to existing cable or satellite HBO customers. HBO GO offers its viewers on demand access to current HBO series, such as Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, and Girls; movies before they reach the current Internet video providers; and full runs of older HBO series such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Sex in the City. While HBO has released no details yet of what shows would be offered or how much the service will cost, it seems safe to presume that the new Internet HBO will mirror HBO GO's video offerings.
"In 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top, HBO service in the United States," Plepler continued. "We will work with our current partners. And, we will explore models with new partners. All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”
The rise of cord-cutters — people who don't subscribe to any cable or satellite TV service — clearly played a role in HBO's decision. Plepler noted that there are currently 10 million broadband-only homes, and "that is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO."
HBO's Internet TV move spells big changes for three interrelated industries: Cable and satellite TV providers; Internet TV providers such as Netflix and Hulu; and Internet Service Providers.
For the first, HBO, along with ESPN, has always been a source of up-selling cable and satellite services. With HBO available as an a la carte Internet service, this will certainly shrink their revenue possibilities.
As for the Internet TV providers, Netflix has long been the biggest of the services, but HBO's presence in the market will give them even more serious competition than Amazon currently provides. HBO doesn't release it subscriber numbers, but SNL Kagan, a media research and analysis firm, estimates the number at 28.7 million customers. In its most recent quarter, Netflix reported that it has more than 50 million customers.
Last, but never least when it comes to Internet video, ISPs have already seen Netflix and YouTube take up more Internet bandwidth than all other Internet services combined. The result has been the net neutrality wars: ISPs, who are often also cable providers, are demanding — and getting — additional fees from video providers for providing them with the high-speed bandwidth they need for their viewers.
Personally, as someone who cut the cords years ago, I'm looking forward to being able to subscribe to the new Internet-only HBO. At the same time, I expect there will be technical-business problems before everyone will be able to watch the new HBO.