It really might happen. Just not quite yet.
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes made his strongest comments yet about the possibility of selling standalone subscriptions to HBO Go, the network’s streaming service.
At the moment, the internet service for the premium channel behind Game of Thrones and a long list of other hit shows is only available through some form of pay TV subscription. HBO has been experimenting with cheaper packages that barely require pay TV but are still sold through Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and others.
Bewkes was asked by Goldman Sachs analyst Drew Borst at an investment conference whether HBO would finally consider side-stepping cable distributors and go direct to consumer, so that “anybody who’s got a broadband connection can get it for $15 or $20 or whatever the price is.” Here, courtesy of FactSet, is Bewkes’s response, with the highlights in bold:
Yes, it’s a really good question. Many of you have asked it. And we ask it all the time and are always looking at it.
What we’ve basically been doing, we’re looking at the market. We’ve been looking at our ability to service customers and our distributors. And basically up until now, it looked to us as though the best and main opportunity was to focus on improving the penetration, the offering, the servicing, the interface, the monetization of HBO through the existing affiliate system. And part of the reason for that was, first of all, there were some real places of opportunity and underperformers there. Secondly, the broadband-only opportunity up until now wasn’t again looked to us to be really at the point where it would be smart to move the focus from one to the other.
So now the broadband opportunity is getting quite a bit bigger, and the ability of the plant to deliver something robust is getting stronger; and so the question you’re asking is becoming more viable, more interesting. What we’re trying to do is basically make sure that we’ve done everything we can with our distributors to take advantage and have them take advantage of what customers they could have. And we’ve got to keep looking actively. We’re seriously considering what is the best way to deal with online distribution, but I don’t have anything to announce about it today.
It was not that long ago that Bewkes professed to be lukewarm on the prospect of freeing HBO Go from the cable bunder. But Time Warner recently rejected overtures to be acquired by 21st Century Fox, and Bewkes needs to find new sources of growth to keep his shareholders happy. People who love great TV could be the ultimate beneficiaries.