Pay TV giant HBO finally plans to offer online-only subscriptions in the US, which could have repercussions for viewers in Australia and around the world.
Despite the growing competition from online rivals like Netflix and Hulu, HBO has held out against the rise of internet video. It has reserved its HBO Go streaming service for US customers who have a home HBO subscription, in order to fight back against the cable-cutting trend. That’s set to change next year when HBO launches a new online-only service which doesn’t require a home subscription.
The reason why HBO could hold out against the online competition for so long is that it controls some of the world’s most popular shows like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and True Detective. You won’t find these shows on Netflix. As in Australia, the only legit way in the US to watch new episodes of Game of Thrones week by week is to sign up for pay TV.
In Australia, Foxtel has already embraced the internet. It launched the Foxtel Play subscription service a few years ago, which lets you watch premium content like Game of Thrones online each week even if you don’t have a home Foxtel subscription. HBO won’t extend its new streaming service to Australia, because Foxtel has already paid top dollar for the local streaming rights. Even so, you can be sure that some Australians will try to sneak into the new American HBO online service, they way they already sneak into Netflix.
The new HBO online service is likely to be cheaper than Foxtel Play, judging by the HBO Nordic streaming service which was launched earlier this year. It won’t just be Australians trying to bluff their way into HBO’s US online service, it will be people from all around the world if it works out cheaper than signing up for their local equivalent to Foxtel Play.
People will be even more determined to sneak into HBO now that rivals like iTunes and Google Play can’t offer new Game of Thrones episodes for sale until HBO and Foxtel have finished screening the entire season.
Even if HBO’s streaming service doesn’t officially launch in Australia, it’s still going to cause tension with partners like Foxtel who pay top dollar for the rights to shows like Game of Thrones. HBO will certainly try harder than Netflix to keep out foreigners, but there’s no foolproof way to keep everyone out.
In the short-term HBO isn’t going to abandon partners like Foxtel, because Foxtel offers the easiest way to squeeze money out of Australia, but the day will eventually come when HBO decides to cut out the middleman and go direct to the public around the world.
When that day comes it will be much harder for traditional pay TV players like Foxtel to get away with forcing customers to pay for expensive packages just so they can watch a handful of TV shows. Foxtel Play is certainly a step in the right direction, but Foxtel will need to keep changing with the times if it wants to survive in the internet age.