HBO could make a killing with cord-cutters. Along with sports and some live events, it is perhaps the last, best argument for owning an archaic, one-way cable TV subscription in the year 2014. Game of Thrones alone could be worth what you're paying monthly for Netflix—well, almost.
For years, fans of HBO and online streaming in general have been imploring—nay, begging—HBO to offer its streaming service HBO Go as a standalone product. There’s even a website, subtly named TakeMyMoneyHBO.com, that does nothing but ask visitors how much they’re willing to pay for such a service.
Since HBO Go's inception, users have required a separate cable subscription to access HBO Go—a prerequisite that has compelled the most loyal fans of The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Vice, and The Sopranos—people who might otherwise cut the cord—to actually buy a cable subscription.
This week, however, HBO gave its strongest signal yet that it’s considering a standalone streaming service, and the internet almost broke as a result. At an investment conference, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes was asked whether HBO would consider severing its reliance on the old cable TV model in favor of independent streaming.
Here’s his answer, as reported by Quartz (emphasis mine):
It's a really good question. Many of you have asked it. And we ask it all the time and are always looking at it. The broadband opportunity is getting quite a bit bigger, and the ability of the plant to deliver something robust is getting stronger; and so the question you're asking is becoming more viable, more interesting. We're seriously considering what is the best way to deal with online distribution, but I don't have anything to announce about it today.
It’s no confirmation, but you have to wonder how long HBO can hold out—especially with many potential international customers blocked from getting HBO Go at all. And I think HBO knows that. It’s actually pretty absurd, this devotion, and it's something you don’t really find outside of the motorcycle community with Harley-Davidson loyalists.
But aside from brand loyalty, HBO has the doting, stinking-rich cradle of the cable companies. Comcast, for example, loves HBO because it's so popular, but its lack of support for certain streaming devices suggests it hates HBO GO. They know that the future of TV is online, but they want to delay that future to maintain an exclusive hold on TV's most lucrative properties.
Currently, HBO Go isn’t available through Roku or PlayStation if you subscribe to cable broadband with Comcast—they want you to sign up for all the other cable channels as well, even if you just want to watch HBO Go.
Fortunately, it seems that HBO—along with the rest of the country—is increasingly fed up with the cable companies’ obstructionism.