Why You Shouldn’t Get Excited About HBO on Broadband

The headlines, of course, are breathless: HBO Goes Online,
It’s not TV, it’s HBO — on your computer, It’s Not the Web, It’s HBO, so when I first saw them, I thought, cool.

Actually, here is what I thought: finally, I’m going to be able to re-watch the full run of The Larry Sanders Show! On my own schedule!

But then I read what HBO on Broadband is actually going to be . . .

First off, they are initially going to offer it to people in Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And, there is no time line for rolling it out the rest of the world. So buck up, Packers fans, while your team ain’t going to the Super Bowl, you do get HBO Broadband!! That must be some consolation, right? . . . Right? . . . Didn’t think so.

Secondly, there is the DRM. Of course: you can’t burn to DVD, the videos will self-destruct in four weeks (I wonder if you can re-download as many times as you wish), and you’ll need a special application in which to play them. Which will only work on Windows, of course.

But here’s the worst part of all:

To gain access, you must be a digital cable customer who subscribes to HBO, and you must use your cable company as your Internet provider.

I get the first bit: they want to make this part of the overall package for HBO subscribers. Fine. I am an HBO subscriber. I have been an HBO subscriber for years. Half of the shows that I regularly declare “The Greatest Show Ever” come from HBO.

But apparently, I’m not the right type of HBO subscriber, because I don’t get my internet via my cable provider. This a choice that I’ve very consciously made: I hate the cable service that my cable company — Charter — provides, why I would willingly ask them to piss me off even more?

So bollocks to that. Because they are basically forcing me to bundle my internet and cable service to get what they are essentially claiming is a natural extension of the HBO brand. But it really isn’t: in the end it seems to be mostly a Trojan Horse to get people to sign up for Time-Warner’s Roadrunner Internet.

Not even the full run of the Larry Sanders Show (which I’m guessing that they probably won’t have, because it will probably be more about hits and less about the Long Tail) will tempt me to do that. Sorry, I’m out.

As a matter of fact, if Time-Warner bought Charter today, I’d be on the phone with DirecTV tomorrow.

Too bad, because I would have been a natural customer for this. You get this to me with easy access, no bullshit restrictions and a full Long Tail, and maybe I won’t be tempted to cancel HBO when The Wire ends in a couple of months.

3 Responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Get Excited About HBO on Broadband”

  1. Frank says:

    larry sanders will likely never be part of the service because HBO would have to buy the rights back. i think they only own the shows that have been made for them in the past ten years. they don’t own larry sanders or dream on or first and 10 or not necessarily the news or any of that early stuff. but they’re making available six feet under, deadwood and sex and the city, so at least there’s a moderately long tail.

    as for the broadband offering itself, i have confidence they’ll get it right and go direct to home users. especially with some of the bad press they’ve been getting in the past couple of days. they will use that to justify to their cable operators why they absolutely have to go direct to the public. maybe they will charge a premium over what you’d pay as part of your cable subscription. and maybe they’ll do what he broadcast networks do with online streaming. based on IP address, they fork over a pecentage of ad revenue to the local affiliates. HBO can do the same thing… based on where you live, they can give a small “commission” to your local cable company, perhaps in marketing dollars.

    and they can still make the broadband service available through cable operators on top of traditional subscriptions.

    the four week self-destruct window has been widely quoted everywhere, but if you dig deeper on some of these stories, they say that it’s actually as long as 12 weeks:


    i think the biggest stumbling block to this whole thing is that you have to be in your home to watch streaming video of HBO. you can’t access it outside your home, like you can with the movies you download.

    that, and the apparent disconnect in corporate strategy. one week, they announce they’re testing tiered bandwith pricing at time warner cable in texas; the next week they come out with a service that invites you to download unlimited content!

  2. Jim says:


    Thanks for all of that. I do wonder if I’m ever going to see Larry Sanders again outside of just downloading full season torrents. Which is crazy, because I’d gladly pay (again!) to own it, but nobody wants to sell it to me.

    I guess that I was hoping that the broadband would go significantly deeper into their back catalog than the pay-per-view, but of course they own what they own.

    Good point about the stumbling block, but I think that the disconnect in corporate strategy comes from the fact that they’ve expanded wayy too fast via buying a bunch of other companies and there is the left hand/right hand problem.


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