HBO Cuts The Cord

Linda Holmes summarizes the news:

Beginning in 2015, HBO will offer a streaming service to cord-cutters and other nonsubscribers on an a la carte basis. It should be noted that the announcement HBO released to the media does not explicitly say the service will be HBO GO (or that it won’t), only that it will be “a stand-alone, over-the-top, HBO service.” And, of course, it doesn’t say how much the service will cost. It doesn’t even say it will carry every HBO show, let alone what archival material will be available — HBO GO has a lot. Those who are currently jumping up and down and declaring their independence from their cable provider may or may not be as happy when more details emerge.

The move, though, would seem to be a big one, given that requiring a cable subscription is standard on many services besides HBO that provide streaming access to cable programming (without requiring episode-by-episode purchase through services like iTunes or Amazon).

Derek Thompson imagines the target audience:

It seems that the audience most likely to pick up an HBO “Go-It-Alone” product today are mostly the young, lower-income Internet-savvy viewers who weren’t cable customers, anyway. That suggests that HBO Go-It-Alone will restrain cable’s growth by preventing new sign-ups, rather than hurt cable by creating more cord-cutters.

Brian Merchant declares that HBO has “killed cable”:

I’m not worried that the death of cable TV will deprive of us of future Mad Men. We’ve already seen that the likes of Netflix and Amazon are more than willing to pay for thoughtful, elaborate productions; Transparent is the best show I’ve seen this fall, and everyone seems to love House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. The shows themselves are still better than ever, hence the success of Walking Dead—which, by the way, counted plenty of internet users among its record-breaking viewership—and there’s indisputably a market for them. Now, plenty of niche shows may fall by the wayside without the help of subsidies from the big packages—but ultimately, I think that means less crappy TV and more time-wasting on the internet.

I’m planning on returning to internet-only TV. More and more people are following suit—the number of households without satellite or cable TV has grown 44 percent over the last four years. That oft-uttered phrase “Oh, I don’t have a TV” is no longer an affected hipsterism but a practical choice.

McArdle asks, “how much will this actually benefit cord cutters in the end? ”

At first blush, the answer is “a lot” — they can get HBO without paying for ESPN! Over the long term, however, as this becomes a bigger revenue source, I’d expect to see the cable networks stop selling their content to other streaming services, crack down on login sharing, and otherwise make sure that if you personally are not paying the cable company, then you personally will pay HBO, not your old roommate who forgot to change his password. I’d also expect to see them offer significant bonuses for longer-term contracts to discourage viewers from signing up, binging for a month or two, then moving onto some other network like harvesting crews moving north.

Zachary M. Seward checks in on the HBO-Netflix rivalry:

HBO now says it can easily pick up additional revenue in the US from people who don’t pay for TV but would subscribe to a standalone HBO package. It’s not yet clear how that will affect the rivalry with Netflix. They can certainly coexist, but more heated competition could put pressure on their prices. Netflix blamed its slower-than-expected subscriber growth on its price increased to $9 a month; HBO’s internet-only service is likely to cost significantly more than that.

James Poniewozik sees HBO’s big news as “a potentially exciting development for TV viewers tired of watching their cable packages swell into bloated, gold-laden barges of tied-together offerings topping $200 a month”:

If big player HBO sees that it can offer a cable-free package and survive, that may lead the way for companies in other pricey TV sectors–live sports, for instance–which you’ve had to agree to buy a giant cable package to get.

Along those lines, CBS announced its own stand-alone web subscription today:

The new “CBS All Access” service, costing $5.99 a month, is the first time that a traditional broadcaster will make a near-continuous live feed of its local stations available over the web. … In a notable carve-out, National Football League games will not be available on the service. CBS executives said they now are in discussions with the N.F.L. and that other live sports already are available for streaming. A similar service from Showtime, the premium cable network owned by CBS, is likely in the “not too distant future,” [CBS CEO Leslie] Moonves said.