Last week saw the emergence of a crowd-driven campaign to get HBO to launch HBO Go as a standalone service that isn’t tied to the consumers cable TV subscription. After thousands upon thousands of tweets and HBO finally issuing a statement via Twitter, the TakeMyMoneyHBO website was given its answer: No. Why is it that this is unlikely ever to happen, what impact/relevance does it have here in Australia, and why is it that people shouldn’t take no for an answer?
First of all, it’s important to understand what HBO Go is. Launched in 2010, HBO Go is the online portal to HBO content. With the HBO library of TV shows available, as well as a selection of movies, documentaries, and sports, it boasts hundreds of hours of content. HBO Go is available through the web, as well as via apps on iPhone, iPad, Roku, XBox 360, Kindle Fire, and Samsung devices. The catch is, however, that only those with an existing subscription to HBO Go via their cable television subscription can access the service.
The TakeMyMoneyHBO site was interesting in that it didn’t just ask people to tweet that they’d pay for the HBO Go service as a stand-alone offering, but rather asked then to cite how much they’d be willing to pay. TechCrunch report that the average tweet settled on a $12 price point (for the record, I tweeted the princely sum of $17.23). Considering the fact that HBO currently earn about $8 per subscriber, it seems like a no-brainer for them to start earning more money per subscriber on this new platform. Still, it isn’t going to happen. Not yet at least.
The problem HBO Go face is that corporate interests block their innovation. HBO are responsible not only for innovating the current form that high end TV series assume today, but the HBO Go platform itself is fairly innovative in the way it has positioned itself as a premium entertainment destination for the connected TV consumer. The problem is that it is difficult to innovate further to that when your corporate partners are so heavily tied to traditional cable television delivery. Marketing, billing, and other avenues of support from the traditional cable companies keep HBO as a premiere brand on cable television. Selling out that level of support to try and go it alone online will put a serious dent in their core business model.
At least for the moment. TV is moving away from broadcast and cable distribution toward an online delivery system. At some point HBO will make the move to offer their service as a stand-alone product. For that reason, it is worthwhile to keep the conversation alive. The more support generated for a cable-free HBO service, the greater the likelihood of the potential subscriber numbers reaching the tipping point required for the service to make financial sense.
Televised Revolution is an Australian blog. We don’t have a horse in this race. We don’t receive HBO Go in Australia. Why does this even matter to us? Directly, it doesn’t. What HBO Go does represent, however, is the potential for producers to distribute their works directly to their audience. While there are all manner of small outfits that produce their own programs in-house and distribute it directly like this (heck, Televised Revolution does this itself with its audio shows), HBO isn’t an independent production house. It has strong corporate ties, a very recognisable brand globally, and is most importantly a heritage brand that has a significant and strong association with US cable television. For HBO to distribute it’s own works, alongside material it has licensed to distribute on their platform, it would be a strong indication not of a game changer, but rather that the game has changed.
For all of its innovation and multi-platform progressiveness, HBO is in so many ways THE INSTITUTION.
For us in Australia, an HBO that produces and distributes its own content is a benefit. Legally, the only ways for us to consume the HBO content at the mercy of a local FTA or subscription broadcaster to schedule it, or for us to buy it from iTunes once a local broadcaster has screened the show. HBO dealing directly with its consumers would not only enable much faster delivery of their content and open up the HBO library to archive programs that may be screened on a broadcaster less frequently (ie shows like Lucky Louie, The Larry Sanders Show, Angels In America, The Corner, Oz, Dream On, or Tales From The Crypt), but it would also possibly provide access to more niche and obscure fare like the various shows produced under the HBO Latino marquee. HBO may make some great TV, but outside of a few of their bigger shows, much of their content is rarely made available for local consumption. Ignoring the very costly practice of buying/importing DVD’s of these shows, the only other way we’re likely to start seeing a lot of this content available in Australia legally is for an HBO Go -type service to launch locally.
HBO are in a unique situation in that they are so highly tied to the traditional cable TV model, yet if any TV brand was to make a serious go at establishing a direct distribution relationship with consumers, HBO is by far the frontrunner. Netflix may manage to out HBO HBO with their upcoming slate of original programming, but until then, premium television is still very much synonymous with the HBO brand.
It’s not TV, it’s HBO. Sure, but it’s just a shame that it’s still on TV.