US & Canada

HBO to offer online-only service

Character from Game of Thrones Image copyright AP/Helen Sloan
Image caption The battle between cable and streaming is worthy of a Game of Thrones plot

HBO has announced plans to sell a streaming-only membership for its content, allowing it to compete with companies like Netflix or Amazon.

It will allow consumers to cut the cord on cable without being forced to "borrow" a password, as some do now, to watch the company's programming.

HBO's standalone streaming service will launch in the United States in 2015.

Its aim is to serve the 10 million, and growing, "broadband only" homes, HBO boss Richard Plepler announced.

"That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," Plepler said.

The news was met with glee on social media, where "cord cutters" celebrated what some called the beginning of the end of bundled TV services. "Down with Cable!" and "Cord cutters, rejoice!" were the trending headlines greeting the news.

Traditionally, HBO, home to shows like Game of Thrones, Girls and True Detective, came as a premium option in a package of bundled cable TV channels, administered by a cable provider.

Image copyright AP/Paul Schiraldi
Image caption Some new beginnings for HBO too: Veep has been popular on Amazon

At a time when people are increasingly watching programmes streamed over the internet - whether on their phones or their plasma screen monitors in their living rooms, many consumers have expressed frustration at paying for traditional cable, only to receive dozens of channels they don't want along with premium brands like ESPN or HBO.

With the advent of Netflix and Amazon streaming services, more and more people are choosing to cut off cable altogether to save money, skip commercials and only watch what they want, when they want it.

Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has gone on record saying "The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us."

While HBO currently offers a streaming service, HBO Go, it is only available to customers who already pay for HBO as part of a cable bundle.

It's not uncommon for people to "borrow" a friend or family member's HBO Go password to watch shows from home, and pressure has been on the subscription channel to provide the services as a stand-alone option.

Until today, analysts speculated that the company was unwilling to alienate cable companies who not only provided a large bulk of revenue, but dealt with HBO's customer-facing issues like technical support and billing.

Image copyright AP/Eric Liebowitz
Image caption Clips from John Oliver's HBO show already go viral online

"Cable and satellite TV providers have anxiously eyed HBO ever since the company announced HBO Go, the premium cable provider's first direct relationship with millions of customers," Forrester's media analyst James McQuivey says.

"Now their worst fear has come true."

He says the move makes sense considering the channel's brand.

"HBO has some of the most prized content on the TV screen and it appeals strongly to the young, affluent, educated demographic that is most likely to cut the cable cord in the next five to 10 years," he says.

The company has tried a similar project in Scandinavia, he says, and earlier this year partnered with Amazon to provide HBO content as part of the online retailer's streaming service.

Both moves allowed the company to evaluate the appetite for and effectiveness of a stand-alone service.

Image copyright AP/Janet Van Ham
Image caption Real Time will be available any time

HBO did not provide details like how much the service would cost or how it would differ, if at all, from HBO Go.

Cable's worst fear is many a consumers' wildest dream. And plenty of them took to social media to congratulate HBO.

"I can't tell you how many times people told me this would never happen - Congratulations," Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen tweeted.

Twitter user Chris McQuinn was more succinct. "Amazing news HBO - I can finally stop stealing [Game of Thrones]."

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