HBO debuts online video service with Verizon
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verizon's FiOS TV customers who subscribe to HBO will be able to watch the cable network's shows online, marking the latest effort by a big media company to stay relevant to people as they spend more time on the Web.
HBO Go is part of a drive by program makers to offer paying cable and satellite subscribers more flexibility to watch their favorite shows away from their TV sets and outside their homes at no extra cost.
HBO's parent Time Warner Inc has been pushing the concept as "TV Everywhere," and cable companies like Comcast Corp are embracing it as On Demand Online.
HBOGO.com will feature more than 600 hours of HBO shows, including its hit series "The Wire." That is more than four times what is typically available on HBO's TV on demand services. HBO will update the roster more regularly than TV on demand, which it usually refreshes once a week.
Verizon FiOS customers will be the first to get access to the HBO Go site, though Comcast HBO subscribers can see similar content through Comcast's Fancast site.
"The name of the game here is customer retention," said Eric Kessler, co-president of HBO, in an interview with journalists at the launch on Wednesday.
TV on demand programing increases program viewership by 20 to 30 percent, according to HBO research, Kessler said. HBO expects online viewing to provide a similar enhancement.
While HBO Go users will be able to see shows on a PC or a Mac anywhere in the United States, they will not initially be able to watch them on newer non-Flash-compatible devices like Apple Inc's iPad.
HBO is working on making the service compatible with other devices including smartphones, Kessler said.
HBO has been careful to position its new online service as a partnership with cable, phone and satellite operators. HBO Go is not intended as a standalone service that could encourage users to drop their local cable company, Kessler said.
Some investors have worried that the future of the cable business model is under threat from new services and devices like the iPad and the iTunes digital media store.
ITunes users can pay to download episodes of some HBO shows without having to be cable subscribers. HBO also is working on a download option that would let people watch shows when they do not have Web access, such as on a plane trip.
(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke. Editing by Robert MacMillan)
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