Is HBO Ready to Go Fully Digital?

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Obviously we here at NMR are huge fans of online video and the kind of entertainment that makes its home online. While we firmly believe that digital is the future, even we have to admit that when it comes to entertainment, premium TV networks like HBO have the goods. That’s why so many fans have been frustrated that the network refuses to make any of their content available in a digital-only format, but it looks like that day might be creeping slightly closer.

HBO already has a perfectly good digital delivery system in the form of HBOGo, the network’s online platform that provides access to buzzy shows like Girls, Game of Thrones, and Looking. There’s just one problem: the only way to get an HBOGo account is to sign up for a pricey monthly cable subscription, a step that most millennials, some of the most avid consumers of digital television content, have been reluctant to take. For many, a popular option is to share a single HBOGo account acquired from someone who does have such a subscription. Though sharing is technically forbidden by HBOGo’s terms of service, the network has done little to enforce those rules. Still, the unavailability of an online-only subscription package has definitely given an advantage to digital competitors like Netflix.

Last month we reported that HBO was experimenting with untethering HBOGo from its cable services and delivering content directly to consumers. HBO has selectively tested the digital only option in Nordic countries and parts of Asia. The only catch? They’re only trying it in countries where HBO programming is licensed by other networks. Bringing such a program to the U.S. would mean that HBO would be competing with its own subscription cable service. Now Jeff Bewkes, chief executive of Time Warner, HBO’s parent company, has offered a glimmer of hope, telling an investor conference, “The broadband-only opportunity up until now wasn’t … at the point where it would be smart to move the focus from one to the other. Now the broadband opportunity is quite a bit bigger.”

With audiences flocking to digital that could be great news for fans of web tv and bad news for subscription services like Netflix who will now have to compete with HBO on their home turf. There are no immediate plans to launch the service in the U.S., but if Time Warner thinks there’s money to be made then it won’t be long!