HBO offers stand-alone streaming service. The end of cable?

HBO plans to offer a stand-alone version of its popular video-streaming service in 2015, avaialble for the first time to viewers without cable subscriptions. The HBO announcement comes as Americans increasingly prefer to stream movies and TV shows digitally on an a la carte basis.

Helen Sloan/AP/File
Peter Dinklage in a scene from the HBO series 'Game of Thrones.' HBO will offer a stand-alone streaming subscription to target viewers without cable.

 Premium cable channel HBO plans to offer a stand-alone version of its popular video-streaming service in 2015.

At an investor meeting at parent Time Warner Inc. on Wednesday CEO Richard Plepler said the move will target the 80 million homes in the U.S. that do not have HBO but may want access to its content. The move comes as Americans increasingly prefer to stream movies and TV shows digitally on an a la carte basis rather than flip through cable channels.

HBO has been offering its streaming HBO Go service to HBO subscribers as well as some Internet subscribers who pay extra for the streaming service only.

Parent company Time Warner[s announcement of the HBO service is below: 

Speaking at the Time Warner Inc. Investor Meeting today, Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO, HBO, announced that the company will offer a stand-alone HBO streaming service in 2015.  Following a portion of his presentation focused on HBO’s domestic business, during which he cited significant growth opportunities inside the pay-TV universe, Plepler then turned to the current ten million broadband-only homes, which is projected to grow.

Plepler then added:

“That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped.  It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO.

“So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top, HBO service in the United States. We will work with our current partners.  And, we will explore models with new partners.  All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”

With the new service, HBO will be capitalizing on the rabid demand among cable non-subscribers for its shows, including 'Game of Thrones' and 'True Detective.' 'Game of Thrones' is continually one of the most pirated programs in history, and the clamor for episodes has repeatedly overleaded the company's streaming website HBO GO, as the Monitor has reported: 

The “Games of Thrones” première is the second crash in a month for HBO GO: The finale for “True Detective,” the crime drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, also flooded the service, with many users shut out or watching a load screen for hours. Afterward, Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes promised investors that his company would invest more in HBO GO to prevent such a thing from happening again.

But in all likelihood,  “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective” fans affected by the HBO GO outages weren’t entirely made up of paying HBO subscribers. It’s common, if not yet quantifiable knowledge that many people watch HBO GO content using login information and passwords given to them by a friend or relative. It was frequently remarked upon last night by Twitter users, including @WalterHickey, who tweeted, “Hey, come on HBO GO, one of my roommate’s parents [grandparents?] are paying good money for this.”

“Game of Thrones," too, has already proven popular with those on the other side of the HBO paywall. Last year’s Season 3 finale became the most-shared illegal download in history, according to numbers from the file-sharing and copyright news website TorrentFreak.  Season 4’s première has already broken that record,racking up over a million illegal shares in less than half a day. The response even prompted London police to crack down on illegal download sites in anticipation of the première.

HBO GO password shares don’t technically count as pirating, but HBO is well aware if the problem. One tweet from the company, in fact, seemed particularly pointed: “We're sorry for all of the trouble, but if you're an @HBO subscriber, the @GameOfThrones premiere replays at 11 PM EST.”

Still, the network isn’t especially concerned that so many people are watching “Game of Thrones” for  free, likely because it increases its fan base and cultural footprint. Last year, HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo told Entertainment Weekly that the rampant downloads were “a compliment of sorts.” While saying that HBO has a firm antipiracy policy, he noted that his biggest concern was that pirated copies would be of poorer quality than the original show.

HBO executives have hinted in the past at offering HBO GO as a separate product for noncable subscribers, This reduce the number of illegal downloads for future programming.  not to mention password borrowers. 

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