HBO considers U-turn on cable-free access to HBO Go

Reuters reported that HBO might consider a reversal of its previous position of not allowing access to HBO Go without a cable subscription.

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HBO Go launched 3 years ago to allow subscribers to watch shows on tablets, but the service is so far restricted to those who have a cable TV subscription with an HBO partner and pay a top-up HBO fee. Co-President Eric Kessler had previously, and rather naively, said in a video interview at VideoNuze that those abandoning cable TV for purely online viewing was “minimal” and a temporary response to the economy, and he said there was no reason to offer a standalone mobile service.

This position now appears to be softening, with CEO Richard Plepler recognizing that a growing number of consumers want to choose both content and viewing platform at will.

“Right now we have the right model,” Plepler told Reuters on Wednesday evening at the Season 3 premiere of HBO’s hit TV show “Game of Thrones.” “Maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve.”

Companies like HBO are faced with a difficult tightrope act. While they earn billions of dollars from their existing sales model, any new offering that risks cannibalizing revenue is a frightening prospect for the company. Equally, however, it’s clear that ‘cable-cutting’ —giving up cable TV subscriptions in favor of online viewing— will only increase. Failing to respond to this is not an option.

One number will be looming very large in front of HBO: 25 million. That’s the number of illegal downloads of its hit show “Game of Thrones”. While some substantial proportion of those people would download pirated content for free no matter what options were available, there is a growing phenomenon of illegal downloads by those who would be willing to pay for content simply because existing deals don’t allow them the freedom to simply pay for the content they want on the device they want.