HBO is testing a new download service, HBO Broadband, in Milwaukee and in the home of the NFC runner-up Green Bay Packers. It has the makings of a smart idea. Like other traditional-TV-goes-online initiatives, however, it’s also hobbled by its need to support HBO’s existing business.
With the new service, HBO subscribers who get Internet access from their cable providers will be able to download a handful of HBO programs to their computers and “watch them on the go.” If HBO were opening its whole library for downloading, HBO subscribers might love the service (and, more importantly, use it). Given that HBO subs are already paying for access to the programming, this would certainly seem a reasonable proposition.
Alas, HBO is only offering downloads of a handful of shows each month–presumably because they want to protect VOD revenue, control piracy, protect DVD revenue, mollify content partners, and make sure subscribers don’t download the whole library and cancel their subscriptions, etc. This means that most eager would-be users will find that they can’t download what they really want to watch. Then, frustrated, they’ll stop checking the site to see what they can download.
HBO should go whole hog here: Offer the whole library. If subscription revenue is an issue, they should call it HBO Download Plus and charge a premium for it. Unlike most vendors who want to set up subscription content plans, HBO already has the subscribers and their credit cards. That’s the hard part.
HBO is going to have to deal with the piracy problem regardless, and those who “watch programs on the go” probably won’t cause much cannibalization. With HBO continuously expanding its library, moreover, HBO subscribers will have an incentive to stay subscribers, especially if HBO makes it so subscribers get a new slate of movies every month. If the service is really successful, HBO might even be able to build it into a sort of digital-only Netflix.
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