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How HBO warmed up to online subscriptions: an oral history

How HBO warmed up to online subscriptions: an oral history

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From "we don’t think it makes sense" to "seriously considering" to here

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Today, HBO announced that its programming will finally be available online without a cable subscription, and the cord-cutters have rejoiced. With good reason: viewers have been clamoring for the option, but HBO has been waffling, teasing, and back-tracking on the idea since before HBO Go even existed. Here, a digestible sequence of events:

2010

If HBO was "overly hindered by having to be part of $60, $80 or $100 packages, we could [sell the channel] through existing distributors" or via new digital platforms, said [Time Warner chief Jeff] Bewkes, speaking at a UBS media conference yesterday.
Before any radical change is offered to viewers, Bewkes will first see how a new product, HBO Go, fares in tandem with pay-TV partners.

New York Post, December 2010

2011

HBO, home of popular TV shows including "Big Love" and "True Blood," is under pressure to recoup lost subscribers and fend off skepticism about its competitive position in a rapidly shifting media landscape. ...

An HBO spokesman said, "We feel confident about our 2011 business performance," citing "continued momentum in original programming," international growth and increased rollout of an online HBO service for subscribers.

Wall Street Journal, March 2011

HBO Go has officially landed, earlier than expected!

Gizmodo, April 2011

2012

We pirate Game of Thrones, we use our friend's HBOGO login to watch True Blood... Please HBO, offer a standalone HBOGO streaming service and Take My Money!

takemymoneyhbo.com, June 2012

A site called Take My Money HBO was established this week to catch the company's attention and let them know that fans were willing to pay standalone programming prices for the app as long as they didn't have to use a cable subscriber. In a rare event, HBO's official Twitter account recognized the request, but silently hinted that such an option will likely never be available.

Yahoo!, June 2012

What [Take My Money HBO] shows, ultimately, is exactly why HBO probably won't offer a standalone service anytime soon: Hardly anybody knows how much it's worth.

BuzzFeed, June 2012

HBO will make the Nordic region the first market where its programming will be available to consumers without requiring that they have a pay-TV subscription. The move sets HBO up to go head to head in competition in those countries with Netflix.

Variety, August 2012

"If in the long run, there's a clear development of enough people that need an a la carte offering of HBO, we'll look at it," Mr. Bewkes said. "It's not the main opportunity now."

Associated Press, September 2012

2013

"We recognize that there's a piece of the audience out there that, if they could get HBO without going through a pay package, we would get it," [HBO CEO Richard Plepler said].

For the moment, he said, HBO needs to make the product so valuable "that it's worth the subscription." But then he dropped a subtle hint that HBO is internally debating the issue, mentioning that he wants to foster a corporate culture that allows for debate - including "an environment that challenges the status quo.

Wall Street Journal, January 2013

"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."

Reuters, March 2013

"The network that we think likely to be our biggest long-term competitor-for-content is HBO ... They have global reach and strengthening technology capacity," [Reed Hastings says].

All Things D, April 2013

Speaking to analysts on an earnings call for its first-quarter results, Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes threw cold water on the idea that it might offer HBO to consumers via broadband without having to subscribe to a larger cable or satellite TV package first.

"We don't think it makes sense," Bewkes said, adding that the target market is "not significantly large enough to be attractive at this point."

Los Angeles Times, May 2013

There's little chance that HBO will offer its content online to non-TV subscribers in the U.S. any time soon.

Home Box Office Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler, in remarks at Nomura's Media & Telecommunications Summit in New York on Thursday, said the company is focused on getting more U.S. households to subscribe rather than letting people pay to watch its content online without buying a satellite or cable TV package.

"For right now, we have the right model for our business," he said. "There are 70 million homes in the U.S. that don't have HBO. We think there's a lot of opportunity in that 70 million."

Los Angeles Times, May 2013

HBO has long said that it has no plans to sell subscriptions directly over the internet, but Netflix CFO David Wells suggested Wednesday at a Goldman Sachs conference that the cable channel should rethink that decision. "We believe that if they were direct-to-consumer, there would be materially more subscribers that would pay for it in the U.S.," Wells said.

Gigaom, September 2013

HBO offered a glimmer of hope last month by quietly trialling a product to new customers in selected US cities with Comcast, America's biggest cable company: a $50-per-month "internet plus" package combining broadband access, broadcast TV and HBO. ...

Yet on the Nov. 6 earnings call for its parent company, Time Warner, executives sounded decidedly lukewarm about the potential of the product. "It's a new offer. It's fairly targeted. It's a pretty limited video offering, not in the sense of HBO which is a fantastic video and broadband offerings. So it won't be attractive for most people," Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said.

Quartz, November 2013

2014

"HBO Go is value added - what you want to watch," Plepler said, in response to questions about unbundling HBO Go. "Right now, that's the right model for us. Are we always thinking about optionality, of course we are always thinking about optionality... if the arithmetic changes and made sense in a different way we are not going to be caught without the ability to pivot."

BuzzFeed, January 2014

"We’re seriously considering what is the best way to deal with online distribution, but I don’t have anything to announce about it today," [Bewkes says].

Quartz, September 2014

In a dream come true for cord cutters, HBO CEO Richard Plepler has confirmed the company plans to launch a "standalone, over-the-top" HBO Go subscription offering at some point in 2015.

The Verge, October 2014

Two years ago I launched takemymoneyhbo.com and within 48 hours 163,673 people came to say Take My Money, HBO!.

Today, October 15, 2014, HBO announced a stand-alone HBOGO is coming.

takemymoneyhbo.com, October 2014