HBO GO and the Future of Television

Television providers have just about always had their customers over a pro­verbial barrel when it comes to televi­sion packages. You pay anywhere up to a couple hundred dollars a month for a cable package where you don’t watch 95 percent of the channels. Addition­ally, you have to sit through fifteen to twenty minutes of commercials break­ing up your shows every hour. It’s a bum deal and it always has been. This is what has led so many people to become “cord-cutters”, relying on services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime to satisfy their television needs.These alternatives have always suffered from two key problems though:

With the partial exception of Hulu Plus, you have to wait a long time for new seasons to be added, and there’s always the chance that a show will be taken off. Also, you’re still entirely at the mercy of the networks whether they will allow their shows to be streamed or not.

For better or for worse, the elusive and quite expensive holy grail of qual­ity television, HBO, has come to define that second rule. They were insistent for years that, Game of Thrones pirates be damned, they would never offer a separate streaming package for their content. They partially broke that rule last year with the addition of some of their older content to Amazon Prime Instant Video, but their newer content remained untouched.

They’ve turned that around by an­nouncing a monthly subscription ver­sion of their existing streaming service HBO Go that will be separate from cable. In the past, you have always needed a cable package with HBO to access HBO Go, which defeats the point for cord-cutters. Details are a little scarce at the moment, but it’s an impor­tant moment in television history that even HBO is shifting towards the streaming model due to the ease and value it can give customers.

The natural questions that come to mind though are how much it will cost and whether it will be worth it. Gizo­modo and various other publications have predicted the price of the new standalone HBO Go to be around $15 per month. That might sound like a lot for one channel, but it becomes a lot more reasonable when you consider what you get. You can finally watch Game of Thrones without resorting to less than legal means, and HBO’s ac­claimed library of older programming such as The Wire, The Sopranos, and True Blood are all available. Unlike Net­flix and its ilk, it allows you to watch through a show’s past seasons and then immediately jump into the episodes that are currently airing. It’s a similar move to what the WWE did with the introduction of the WWE Network last year or CBS’s All Access program—all of their current programming and a good selection of past content available for streaming, all wrapped up in a rea­sonable monthly price.

Even if we are headed towards a streaming, value-packed television paradise, not all of the conventions of traditional TV will probably disappear. We likely won’t see a wide adoption of the House of Cards binge-watching model where they release all the epi­sodes in a season at once. Series rely far too much upon week-to-week buzz to stay relevant for a widespread adoption of that model to happen. Additionally, so much revenue in television comes from commercials that some networks might still find a way to squeeze com­mercials in, even if it just takes the form of the occasional, short ads that Hulu utilizes. We could alternately see more prominent product placement in order to move series away from commercials and towards more unavoidable forms of advertising.

It could get expensive to cut the cord for people whose favorite shows are spread out across numerous networks if they all adopted a model like this, but it has the potential to beat the cable packages we have today. This is espe­cially true if networks embraced the model of allowing viewers to easily catch up on past seasons so they can watch current shows as they air, instead of making people spend money on sea­son boxsets or wait for them to become available on streaming outlets like Net­flix. It’s fantastic that HBO and a hand­ful of other networks are willing to take this first step into the future of television and see where it takes us.

PHOTO BY ALLISON PHAM