By Alistair Barr and Liana B. Baker
SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK, March 21 HBO could widen
access to its HBO GO online streaming service by teaming up with
broadband Internet providers for customers who do not subscribe
to a cable TV service, HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler said.
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."
HBO launched HBO GO in 2010 to let subscribers view its
shows over the Internet on devices such as Apple Inc's
iPads. The service has about 6.5 million registered users,
compared with more than 100 million for HBO's main service
However, HBO GO is only accessible to viewers who pay for
cable TV service, plus an extra fee for HBO. This means monthly
bills of $100 or more typically for people who want to use HBO
Plepler said late Wednesday that HBO GO could also be
packaged with a monthly Internet service, in partnership with
broadband providers, reducing the cost.
Customers could pay $50 a month for their broadband Internet
and an extra $10 or $15 for HBO to be packaged in with that
service, for a total of $60 or $65 per month, Plepler said.
"We would have to make the math work," he added.
HBO, owned by Time Warner Inc, relies on large
financial support from its cable and satellite TV partners to
help distribute and promote its shows.
Plepler said in January that it would not make business
sense to provide an Internet-only product that circumvents its
existing distribution network.
Internet-only rivals such as Netflix Inc and
Amazon.com Inc are challenging this approach by
delivering original programming directly over the Internet.
BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield said that for now, it is
not within HBO's economic interest to offer a broadband-only
product, since it endangers HBO's business model.
"The current model is good to them. If it starts to break
down, I'm sure HBO will evolve," Greenfield said.
He added that HBO GO gives the network an edge against other
cable networks if since it is "increasingly on everybody's smart
phone, tablet and desktop."
GAME OF PIRACY
Game of Thrones has been pirated heavily online, a trend
that some industry experts blame on HBO's tight control of how
and when the show can be viewed and the cost of such access.
Most of the piracy occurs outside the United States and HBO
is trying to control it, Plepler said.
George R.R. Martin, author of the books upon which the TV
show is based, said most of the piracy happens in Australia
where viewers have had to wait about six months to see the show.
If Australian viewers got access to Game of Thrones at the
same time as in the United States, that would reduce piracy,
An HBO spokesman said that 176 markets will air season three
of the shows within a week of the United States premiere.
John Bradley-West, one of the actors on the show, said
piracy may be reduced if HBO offered a full season pass via
Apple's iTunes store for viewers to stream online a day after
the official TV broadcast.
HBO is not changing its Game of Thrones distribution windows
for DVDs and electronic sell-through, or EST, the HBO spokesman
said. EST is a way of distributing video over the Internet that
allows viewers to download movies and TV shows.
In the past, Game of Thrones has been available on iTunes
and DVD several months after its initial release.