Welcome to the party, HBO. We've been expecting you.
The prestige cable network is finally giving into intense external pressure from viewers, by offering an online-only streaming service set to be available some time next year.
The announcement was made by HBO chairman and CEO, Richard Plepler, who took the stage at at Time Warner Inc.'s investor meeting Wednesday. "That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped,” Plepler said, in reference to the 10 million homes that rely on Internet connections over cable subscriptions for their small screen fix. "It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO."
The announcement was a long time coming for a typically progressive company that was clinging to archaic models of content distribution. Earlier this year, Netflix passed HBO in subscriber revenue, and though never mentioned by name, the online streaming giant loomed large at today's announcement.
In fact, everything about this felt inevitable. Game of Thrones is HBO's most popular show of all time, and last year it was also the most pirated. The swords-and-sandals saga is the only show in the country whose illegal downloads actually surpass its traditional ratings.
HBO has already had success with online streaming, thanks to their app HBO Go, which is only accessible to subscribers of the channel (and their resourceful offspring who managed to score the password off their parents.)
Finally, when HBO announced that it was licensing a large chunk of its back catalog to Amazon Prime earlier this year, it became clear that that the network was ready to explore different ways of distributing its content.
This is just the latest move in the growing rivalry between HBO and Netflix, an epic slugfest that's shaping up to be the space race for the digital age. But, instead of the moon, the two companies are competing for our eyes, our time, and most importantly, our dollars.