For years, HBO has been saying it's not TV. Now, with reports that it will be offering downloads of many of its movies and shows, many viewers may not even watch the cable-channel's offerings on that device.
According to news reports, the pioneering pay-cable channel will launch HBO On Broadband on Tuesday with about 400 hours of downloadable movies and original TV series. The download service will be available only to HBO subscribers, and initially only to those in the Milwaukee or Green Bay, Wis., areas. There will be no extra charge for the service beyond the cable-channel subscription, and it will be marketed through cable companies.
PC-Only, Not Via Satellite
Eric Kessler, HBO co-president, told news media that the new service will enhance the value of a subscription. In 2001, HBO offered a video-on-demand service for movies and original series, which the cable service has said helped retain subscribers. HBO On Demand reaches about one-third of HBO subscribers.
Some technological barriers for the download service may restrict its adoption. It will be PC-only, is not compatible with Apple's iPods, and cannot be offered to subscribers who receive HBO through satellite transmissions. Downloaded content cannot be transferred to another device, and the user has a four-week window in which to view the content.
But there are some added values as well. The download service will enable users to set their computers as they would a digital video recorder, including automatically downloading new movies or series episodes, and user accounts can be established for different family members. There is also parental control by rating, and viewers in the Eastern time zone will be able to watch a live feed of the service.
The service will require a separate application, which will be distributed to subscribers in Wisconsin via CD-ROMs from the Time Warner cable operator. The target audience includes younger viewers, who are increasingly watching the Web as much or more than TV, and business travelers.
HBO Content Among 'Most Desired'
The entire online video market is heating up. Last week, for instance, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that iTunes would be offering movie rentals from virtually all the major studios, and the rentals can be watched on Macs, PCs, iPods, iPhones and Apple TV. HBO's involvement with iTunes is currently limited to a selection of programming.
Recently, NetFlix also announced an expansion of its online movie-viewing options for subscribers, and many other programming providers are increasing their commitment and experimentation with online distribution.
But James McQuivey, an analyst with industry research firm Forrester, noted that HBO is different from many other providers. "HBO's content is among the most desired out there," he said, adding that the high value of its premium content allows it be "exclusive and controlling."
He noted that the company is making it available in a way "that is consistent with the cable companies' desire to maintain TV and broadband subscribers," but he predicted other cable companies will be more likely to allow wider availability of their content, including to non-subscribers.