In a move that could revolutionize the way popular programming reaches TV viewers, HBO will offer a stand-alone service next year to the 80-plus million viewers who don't already receive the service.
In a bombshell announcement during the Time Warner Investor Inc. meeting in New York, HBO chief Richard Plepler said:
"That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO. So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top, HBO service in the United States. We will work with our current partners. And, we will explore models with new partners. All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”
Indeed, HBO's move is not merely a landgrab, but an initiative clearly aimed at the many millions who now effectively steal the network's programs via HBO Go, the hugely popular streaming site that merely requires a cable service password — a password that millions of college students and others freely appropriate from their parents — to watch. HBO has publicly shrugged off the piracy, but privately the company clearly has been paying close attention.
But Time Warner -- under intense pressure to cut costs following a thwarted bid by Fox -- is also looking at a future in which HBO is apparently not entirely based on the model that made it one of the great growth engines of the entire cable industry almost since launch on Nov. 8, 1972. Netflix has the preferred model-du-jour as far as Wall Street is concerned and -- while still in its early stages -- so does Amazon Prime. Millions of viewers bent of binging or snacking at their leisure would appear to agree.
HBO offered no word on pricing, or whether it would be a la carte (similar in part to Amazon) or a standard monthly fee, similar to Netflix. The exact launch date was not announced either. Nevertheless, it does appear as though "Game of Thrones" is about to get a whole lot bigger...