The high-quality programming on HBO has led what some critics are referring to as a new “golden age” of TV, but many consumers are still struggling to find full access. Aside from a deal with Amazon that only covers certain shows, HBO has no on-demand service in place for fans who want to watch their favorite shows online. If Game of Thrones fans want to legally watch new episodes, and they don’t subscribe to HBO, they’re left begging their friends for access to HBO GO.
That could be about to change. During a presentation for investors hosted by HBO parent company Time Warner, HBO CEO Richard Plepler announced a digital VOD service that will not require a pay-TV subscription.
Plepler described the service as a “stand alone, over the top” platform that launch in 2015. There aren’t many details about the exact nature of the service, and while HBO could build its own web platform, a report in Recode suggests it may instead team up with companies like Amazon and Hulu.
HBO has been generally stingy about the programming it distributes online, and the upcoming service could represent a reversal of that philosophy. The rise of Netflix is no doubt in the minds of HBO execs; last year, the online video platform that distributes its own slate of premium content surpassed HBO in terms of US subscribers. Many viewers are getting all their TV online, and it is that group, which does not subscribe to cable, that HBO is trying to target with its new service.
HBO must also consider the revenue it is losing from customers who turn to illicit means when they can’t find a legal place to watch their favorite shows free of charge. Game of Thrones was the one of the two most-torrented shows in the world in 2013, and with an online video offering, HBO could at least cull some ad revenue from those otherwise untapped viewers. Plepler even made reference to Game of Thrones in his address; he claimed HBO plans to go “beyond the wall.”
HBO must now make some tough choices for its planned online offering. Will it require any payment, or will it be free? Will it feature a “windowed” approach where content is only available after a certain period of time, or will shows become available the day after they air? Will HBO offer all its programming online (i.e. Game of Thrones), or will it only make certain shows available? We expect to get answers to all these questions before the service’s planned 2015 launch.