The Xbox 360 will be the next platform that can stream HBO Go, starting on April 1, the day Game of Thrones Season 2 comes out, according to Engadget.
HBO Go, which is also available on iPad, Android, browser, Samsung HDTVs and Roku boxes, lets subscribers stream the company’s entire lineup of movies, series, and documentaries.
HBO does not, however, offer a standalone service. In order to use it on these devices consumers must subscribe through their cable packages.
HBO’s position with the HBO Go service exemplifies the current state of television, where consumers find themselves in a tug-of-war between cable packages and over-the-internet, mobile-streaming options like those offered by Hulu and Netflix.
On one hand, users would be happy to see HBO Go offered as a standalone product. Imagine paying for it like users do with Netflix–it could perhaps even charge on a tiered basis, depending on what content users want streaming access for.
On the other hand, HBO is almost entirely reliant on the cable subscription model to make money. As it is now, HBO charges cable subscribers an extra $15 or so to access its premium content. For this reason, HBO is able to show violent and graphic content, content which, because of its very nature, would scare off most advertisers. The upshot: HBO makes no money through advertising, but makes it instead through cable subscribers. (the subscriber revenue is split at about 50/50 between HBO and the cable provider, according to The Economist.)
If it were to sell its content on a standalone basis, it would take on two big risks. First, it would be stepping into indirect competition with Netflix, which offers much more content. I say indirect because HBO creates its own premium content, whereas Netflix (at least for now) licenses all of its programming. People may be willing to subscribe to HBO separately simply because it offers very popular, proprietary shows.
The second and bigger risk is that HBO could alienate itself from cable providers, like Time Warner Cable and Comcast. As it is now, you can only watch HBO’s newest programming if you subscribe to cable. If HBO offers a standalone service, there could be an exodus from traditional subscription cable. So if I were the cable provider exec interested in saving my business, I would say to HBO: You offer a standalone service, you can no long bundle your channel in with the rest. And bingo–HBO’s revenue falls out the bottom.
Still, HBO is in a better position than any other company to disrupt the cable regime because of its quality content. In countries outside the U.S. HBO’s business models are far different than those here. As tablets begin to saturate markets worldwide, HBO could offer standalone streaming internationally, build up revenues, and then dump cable providers domestically.