by Bill Snyder

HBO Will Make it Easier to Cut the Cable Cord

Oct 16, 20143 mins
Consumer Electronics

HBO plans to offer its programming as a standalone Internet-streaming service in 2015, and that's great news for cord cutters.

Love HBO, but hate your cable company? Listen up.

If you wait until next year, you’ll be able to enjoy the premium service without the “help” of the Comcasts and Direct TVs of the world. It will probably be cheaper, too, because you’ll be streaming the HBO content.

Sometime in 2015, HBO will offer its HBO Go streaming service as a standalone subscription, according to the company’s CEO Richard Plepler. Plepler didn’t reveal many details. It’s unclear how much the service will cost, and whether or not you’ll be able to stream programs on an à la carte basis, but I suspect you will.

What is clear, though, is that the announcement is a break from the company’s long-standing business model of selling its service as part of an expensive cable (or satellite) bundle. The news comes at a time when companies including Neflix, Amazon and Hulu, and devices, such as the Roku box and TiVo’s Romio, are making “cord cutting” a more viable option for people who like TV but dislike their cable providers.

Many of today’s HDTVs are Internet-ready, and some manufacturers — Samsung, for example — include features that make it much easier to stream directly to your TV.

How pervasive is cord cutting? The numbers conflict. Analysts at Experian Marketing Services published a study last April that suggests the number of customers with high-speed Internet access who have either never subscribed to cable or who stopped subscribing to cable has increased by 44 percent, up from 5.1 million households to 7.6 million, during the past three years. The culprit? Netflix and Hulu. Subscribers to those services were three times more likely to not have a cable subscription than the average household, Experian said.

Other studies, including one from Morgan Stanley and reported by Forbes, indicate that the shift is less significant.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter which analysts are right. Streaming technology and the devices that make it possible to enjoy programming without a cable contract are clearly pushing the entertainment and broadcasting industries. Netflix, for example, was the first streaming service to begin producing its own programming with hit shows including “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” Amazon had less success with its Amazon Originals series, but it continues to crank out new shows.

HBO already offers streaming video with HBO Go subscriptions. In the United States, only consumers who subscribe to HBO via a pay-TV service can access it. We’re talking major change here. HBO has a good deal of clout, is an industry leader, and others are sure to follow its lead. That’s great news for cord cutters and those who aspire to be.