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HBO is poised to launch its internet-only service in time for “Game of Thrones”

By John McDuling

This post has been updated. 

Time Warner’s long-awaited plans to sell its popular premium channel, HBO, direct to consumers over the internet appear to be progressing rather quickly.

Fortune reported that HBO is poised to outsource its streaming infrastructure, which has struggled during high-profile events such as the True Detective finale, to MLB Advanced Media. That’s the highly impressive offshoot of professional baseball that already counts WWE and ESPN among its clients.

At almost the same time as that news broke, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes revealed  at a conference hosted by UBS in New York that the company is exploring three options for what has been described as HBO Go It Alone, a product which will be targeted at the 10 million homes in the US that have broadband but no cable—and possibly at other countries.

  • The first option is to work with existing distributors (i.e. cable companies) to sell HBO on top of broadband-only packages these distributors already offer. Such skimmed down HBO+broadband packages already exist, although they are not advertised very extensively.
  • The second would be to work with “new digital distribution partners” to sell HBO. (Bewkes did not specify which, but Amazon, to which HBO has already licensed content, might make sense).
  • Third, the company could offer the product directly to consumers, keeping all of the subscription fees for itself, but it would also need to invest in infrastructure and billing systems to do so.

The Fortune report suggests the third option could be the most likely one, and that HBO wants to release the new standalone packages in April, in time for the next season of its most popular (certainly the most pirated) show, Game of Thrones.

The Wall Street Journal had similar details about the outsourcing deal. MLB Advanced Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An HBO spokesperson said in an email that “April is not confirmed”.

In any case, Bewkes has good reason to be pleased with himself. Shares in Time Warner have now almost fully recovered since he walked away from a takeover approach from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Group, and his media conglomerate is on track to deliver a big profit increase next quarter.

Update 4:15pm ET: Post updated with a comment from HBO.