Could HBO Streaming Only Service Kill Off Piracy?

Premium cable network HBO have one of America’s best-known dedicated catch-up streaming services in the form of HBO GO, though the platform’s biggest drawback has always been that it is a free option only for existing cable customers (of which an estimated 6.5m have taken up from 100m worldwide HBO subscribers).

hbo_goHowever, the company have revealed that they are looking into ways to remedy this and broaden their potential userbase for HBO Go, looking at the possibly of teaming up with broadband providers to offer combined deals.

So why have HBO who have historically been anti-streaming, suddenly have a change of heart? The ongoing damage from worldwide piracy resulting from fragmented release dates, may partly answer that question.

HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler claimed that such an online focus could enable the company to provide an outlet for viewers who do not want to subscribe to the main channel, despite the two generally being seen as going hand-in-hand.

Attending the season 3 premiere of HBO’s flagship fantasy drama Game of Thrones, Plepler said of the possibilities: “Maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve. We would have to make the math work.”

A proposed model from Pleper is that customers on a $50-a-month contract with a broadband package could merely pay up to $15 for HBO Go to be included in their internet service subscription, offering both at a cost of up to $65 overall.

Time Warner-owned HBO are a service that pride themselves on their traditional outlet of cable (with Pleper himself saying in January that it ‘did not make business sense’ to offer something that was Internet-only), but it appears as though the chance to challenge the likes of Netflix and Amazon in the online streaming market could be an opportunity too good to pass up should they find the means to get the best out of both delivery methods.

BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield warned that it could be a a bad move to do anything that goes against their existing concept, stating: “The current model is good to them. If it starts to break down, I’m sure HBO will [then] evolve. [The current system works because HBO Go is] increasingly on everybody’s smart phone, tablet and desktop.”

Meanwhile, HBO have been continuing to look into ways to block piracy of their shows (after Game of Thrones retained its title of the most pirated in the world in 2012), and while Plepler claims that most of this occurs outside of the USA and that they are attempting to ‘control it’, George R.R. Martin (the author of the book series that Game of Thrones is based upon) claims that it is only a result of many offending countries (such as Australia) sometimes having to wait up to six months before ‘new’ episodes arrive legally, and that fixing this could greatly reduce piracy numbers.

It is an issue that plagues many popular American shows overseas, and while HBO claim that ‘176 markets’ will be showing season three episodes ‘within a week’ of their American debuts, could their fairly unique in-house model enable them to do more for this problem in the few markets that are missing?

With the new digital TV landscape that has been created in the last few years, viewers in the UK or Australia do not want to wait weeks, or months after the US premier before having the same opportunity to watch content.  They will not accept the antiquated release windows and in the absence of any alternative, piracy becomes the only option left. A low cost HBO Go streaming only service could, just like Hulu Plus, be rolled out around the world and kill off the need for viewers to head for torrent and P2P websites.

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