Let’s face it: Time Warner just declared war on cable — and Netflix — with its new streaming service HBO Now, announced today as an upcoming feature for Apple TV. It’s just what cord cutters wanted, except for the price — which, at $14.99 a month, is much higher than Netflix at $8.99. It will be a carbon copy of HBO Go and available to anyone with broadband, including those who don’t buy TV or other services from a cable or satellite company. It will launch sometime before April 12, when the new season of Game Of Thrones begins
The company is making a bet that HBO is too important to mess with. It also indicates that Time Warner has grander ambitions than HBO chief Richard Plepler hinted at back in October, when he announced his intention to offer some of his programming online to people who don’t subscribe to pay TV. He said that he wanted to “work with our current partners” to merely reach the 10 million or so households that subscribe to broadband but not pay TV. “That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped,” he said.
Today HBO offered an olive branch of sorts by agreeing to let cable and satellite providers sell HBO Now simultaneously with Apple. For the first three months, Apple will be the sole digital-only company offering HBO Now. After that, people with other digital devices — possibly Roku, TiVo, Google’s Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire YV Stick — will be able to subscribe.
But if cable and satellite companies want to push back, they could cut marketing for HBO; promote rival services such as Showtime, Starz, and Epix; or play games with Time Warner’s Turner channels including TNT, TBS, CNN and Cartoon Network.
They have every reason to see HBO Now as a threat. Although technically a VOD service, not a live stream of the linear channel, there won’t be a big distinction. It will include movies in the current rotation; HBO has deals with corporate cousin Warner Bros., Universal, Fox and Summit. New shows will be available the moment the air on the channel, and live shows such as Real Time With Bill Maher will post a little later. The new stuff, plus classics from HBO’s modern era including The Sopranos and Sex And The City, also will remain available for catch-up and binge viewing. MLB Advanced Media is providing back end support.
Apple SVP Eddy Cue clearly identified what this means for traditional pay TV distributors. “HBO Now offers a new generation of HBO fans many of the best TV programs n the world without a cable or satellite subscription,” he said. “Now, with the same simplicity as buying an app, customers can subscribe to HBO Now and instantly start viewing their favorite HBO programs as they air. This is huge.”
Investors sent Time Warner shares up up 1.3% — beating Apple, just up 0.4% following its much-hyped Apple Watch unveiling. But Netflix was down 1.9%.