What if HBO went beyond an online version of itself and became, instead, its own “virtual” multichannel video programming distributor?
That provocative idea gets a workout from the Donohue Report, a new online tech biz site fronted by Steve Donohue.
He begins by reviewing Comcast’s Q3 earnings call, during which top execs seemed calm about HBO’s planned new site, Steve Burke, Comcast’s CEO rightfully noted HBO has to be careful not to “cannibalize what is already a really, really good business.” But Burke acknowledged, in the near future things are going to explode, and the general idea is that Comcast will be setting off many of the fireworks.
Donohue says: “It’s not a standalone version of HBO that Comcast and other pay TV distributors should be concerned about. It’s the idea that HBO may be poised to use broadband pipes to deliver not only its premium movie channel -- but also packages that include other cable networks and connected home services – that should concern Comcast and other distributors.”
HBO lives within the same company that operates Turner Broadcasting and Time Warner, with easy access to put together a virtual cable package of some sort that could be attractive as more viewers consider the alternative to cable, or never consider cable to begin with. And let’s face it--that’s a combination of companies that know content and sales.
As Dohohue notes, a packager of a service like that wouldn’t have to keep it all in the family. HBO Nordic, the company’s first standalone online service, and possibly something of a test lab for HBO, has deals with CBS and Comcast for programming there, so that, literally, HBO is showing Showtime content. Similar kinds of packages could be constructed here, I suppose, and as distribution systems begin to fragment, it might be wise for lesser cable networks to find agreeable online hosts to latch onto.
At the same time, The Diffusion Group reports that broadband penetration will top 100 million U.S. households soon, at the same time cable and satellite subscription services are in decline. Sometime soon, within months, there will be more broadband homes than pay-TV homes. According to TDG's, Pay-TV Refugees, 2014, right now, 14% of adult broadband users don’t use a legacy pay-TV service. That’s up from 9% in 2011.
MediaPost’s Larissa Faw reported a couple days ago that new research from Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse survey shows that more than one-third of American consumers would be interested in some kind of HBO standalone service, depending on what it offers and what it costs. That kind of consumer anticipation seems to suggest that HBO may have something very big on its hands, perhaps even bigger than it planned for. But HBO, no doubt, is waiting to see how Comcast reacts.