Yesterday's announcement by HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler that the network would offer a cable-free, standalone version of its hugely popular HBO Go streaming service was akin to a shockwave tearing across the media landscape. In fact, there's only one GIF I felt could properly communicate its impact on the entertainment industry.
“It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO,” Plepler told investors. “So, in 2015, we will launch a standalone, over-the-top HBO service in the United States. This is the most exciting inflection point, both domestically and internationally, in the modern history of HBO.”
Unlike Netflix or Hulu, HBO's addition of a standalone platform is historic because it's the first and largest company to give consumers a choice outside of cable. While the network's Go service has been around since 2010, only cable subscribers (or a friend who doesn't mind sharing his login) have been able to access it. Fans of the network, especially in light of such record-breaking original series as "Game of Thrones" and "True Detective," have long called for a cable-free alternative, with petition sites like TakeMyMoneyHBO.com racking up more than 160,000 signatures.
Now that HBO has made the shift, the likely outcome is that other celebrated cable-only networks will strategically follow. As Plepler mentioned in his release, there are 10 million broadband-only homes in the U.S., a segment that's not only significant but also growing.
"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,” he added. You can bet that Starz, AMC, Showtime and others will not sit idly by in cableland while HBO diversifies.
In fact, it didn't take long at all. In response to HBO's move, CBS CEO and President Leslie Moonves announced today that CBS (and Showtime) will soon offer standalone streaming services. “It is an important part of our future," he told the NY Times. "Our job is to do the best content we can and let people enjoy it in whatever way they want. The world is heading in that direction."
The result? The cable companies' lock on premium channels will quickly come to an end.
Of course, cable will continue to get by just fine. The cable companies we love to hate are also the ones that control our access to broadband. At the end of the day, we're still stuck in the system, but with a bit more choice. And let's not forget live sports, which for the time being at least, remains a huge incentive for cable subscribers. Consider this the beginning of the end, however, for Big TV. The future of original programming, for better or worse, will be unhinged from cable. Let's hope it's a happy ending.
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