The battle for standalone HBO GO

TakeMyMoneyHBO.com creator Jake Caputo wants access to HBO GO without a cable subscription. Why he says it's a battle worth fighting – and why he may never win.

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    Anna Paquin, who plays Sookie Stackhouse in "True Blood," poses at the premiere for the fifth season of the HBO television series." TakeMyMoneyHBO.com founder Jake Caputo says one reason why HBO should offer a standalone streaming service is because "we use our friend's 'HBO GO' login to watch 'True Blood.'"
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When the premium cable channel HBO created its own online, on-demand service, subscribers rejoiced. The two-year-old HBO GO gives current customers unlimited access to all of HBO's original programming (including the complete series of "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos"), documentaries, and movies – all free of charge.

Wordpress designer Jake Caputo wants HBO GO. Badly. But without a cable subscription (let alone paying extra for HBO), he is out of luck. Like many young Americans, Mr. Caputo watches most, if not all, of his TV online.

There should be a way to get HBO GO without a cable subscription, he says. Caputo is willing to pay for the service. To make his point, Caputo launched TakeMyMoneyHBO.com.

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“We pirate ‘Game of Thrones,’ we use our friend’s ‘HBO GO’ login to watch ‘True Blood,’ ” says the website. “Please HBO, offer a standalone HBO GO streaming service and take my money!”

One day after the site went live, Time Warner Cable Vice President Fernando Laguarda took notice – and voiced his disapproval.

“[H]ow much would you pay for a health club with just the equipment you use? #economics #impractical,” Mr. Laguarda wrote on Twitter.

In other words, Time Warner – of which HBO is a subsidiary – isn’t too keen on the idea of a standalone HBO GO streaming service. But Caputo, who says his website has gotten “overwhelmingly positive” feedback, is still pushing to make HBO GO available to any Internet user willing to pay a monthly fee.

“I’ve read and heard that it can’t happen because [HBO’s] too tied into the cable and satellite companies, which I find hard to believe,” Caputo says in an email interview. “We’re talking about some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world. If they wanted to offer HBO GO as a standalone product, they could figure out how to do so.”

TakeMyMoneyHBO.com allows visitors to post a message on Twitter saying how much money they’d pay for a monthly standalone HBO GO subscription. In its first day online, the site got more than 12,000 visits, and the average amount visitors said they’d pay was about $12, according to Tech Crunch. (HBO costs $10 to $20, depending on the cable package.)

However, Tech Crunch writer Ryan Lawler argues that $12 seems like enough for HBO, but that actually implementing a standalone service would be difficult.

“HBO currently has about 29 million subscribers, and reportedly receives around $7 or $8 per subscriber per month,” he writes. “So HBO could, theoretically, get more per subscriber than it’s currently making. But that doesn’t include the cost of infrastructure needed to support delivery of all those streams, including all the [online] delivery and other costs that would come with rolling out a broader online-only service.”

“Most importantly,” he continues, “going direct to online customers by pitching HBO GO over-the-top would mean losing the support of its cable, satellite, and IPTV distributors.”

Caputo says that cable companies such as Comcast needn't worry about HBO GO splitting off. “I have Comcast internet service, so why can’t I have HBO GO for $40 paid to Comcast each month?” he says. “That would at least be a step in the right direction to open it up to more users.”

Caputo says his end goal is to convince HBO that HBO GO should be available to anyone with Internet access. But so far, getting the company's attention is good enough.

“Love the love for HBO. Keep it up. For now, @RyanLawler @TechCrunch has it right,” HBO tweeted June 6th.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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