With their a la carte approach to giving movie and TV fans exactly what they want to see, Netflix and Hulu (among others) have become the new juggernauts on the block, favorably comparing to their premium cable competition. HBO and Showtime execs have recognized the appeal of on-demand streaming services, as evidenced by HBO Go’s Sunday night Internet implosions and Showtime Anytime's gradual rise in popularity, but those sites are still tied to consumers' TV services. Will we ever live in a world where Americans who don’t own a TV can watch True Detective on their own separate HBO Go account? It’s more than possible.
Having now successfully brought an Internet-only HBO Go to Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is beginning to toy with the idea of doing the same thing domestically, in a more direct competition with Netflix. (Remember when he said last year that he wasn’t going to do this?) While it may seem like the obvious choice to everyone without easy access to HBO Go, Bewkes says it really didn’t seem like a good investment of time and energy in the past. But with streaming and broadband capabilities on the rise, he calls the shift in focus “more viable and more interesting,” according to Deadline.
Expect these moves to be baby steps at first. Bewkes spoke at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference and teased an upcoming deal with Comcast that will give customers broadcast TV channels, broadband internet and HBO Go for around $50 a month. I’m guessing this would be a good way to test customer demand and approval while also not crashing their servers. As someone whose satellite and Internet costs are around four times that Comcast deal, the lower price is certainly appealing. (Even though the channel list and Internet speeds are probably on the low side.)
But if Bewkes and his team eventually decide that bringing HBO Go to everyone at once is a good idea, there really isn’t anything stopping them. “We have the rights,” he said. “We can do it if we want to now. But we don’t want to do anything that’s not at a high level.”
I say let’s get that high level business going so people don’t have to change their cable companies entirely just to avoid paying for HBO bundles. Charge us $10-15 a month and be reasonable about what you’re actually offering people, which is a legal way to watch Game of Thrones. I don’t know who I was yelling to just then.
Of Showtime’s chances of hitting customers directly, CBS exec Les Moonves said they’re always thinking about “the most appropriate way to market your product.” He says the future could definitely see Showtime Anytime getting partly out of the subscription cable game, but he doesn't offer much of a timeline, simply saying the business will change dramatically over the next three to five years. I have to think HBO is getting on this plan a little sooner.
Regular cable networks are already putting out fare that comes close to matching HBO series' quality, so premium cable is rapidly coming closer to defining the average rather than the superlative. Now is the time to open the gates and let new generations of TV imbibers binge on The Wire and The Sopranos.