The streaming movement is becoming a veritable tidal wave in Hollywood, with HBO the latest to make a big move into that digital future.
HBO Go will officially launch on May 2 (it’s been in soft launch mode for months), making programs from “Boardwalk Empire” to “The Sopranos” available on smartphones and tablets like the iPad.
It joins the VOD parade at an especially feverish time: In the past few weeks, DirectTV has signed deals with four major studios for its Home Premiere service; Comcast with ABC and Fox for its Xfinity platform; and as TheWrap reported this week, YouTube is preparing to launch a movie on demand service in the coming weeks with at least three major studios and several indies.
Clearly Hollywood has decided that this is the moment to embrace the digital future. The long-burning decline in the DVD market, and fast growth of Netflix's streaming service, has convinced companies to make the digital distribution bet they’ve been reluctant to take.
For HBO, that’s a particularly big move, having made hundreds of millions of dollars off the sale of boxed sets of their high-profile series. The pay cable service has up to now carefully kept its programs away from digital platforms like Netflix or Hulu, believing that subscription services and embedded ads devalue their premium shows.
But clearly the bet is that streaming is now a necessity. (And they’re right, by the way. So is everybody else making that bet.)
Young viewers are not consuming content on television sets. They are not using their telephones just to make phone calls, either. So HBO and everybody else has to bring the content to the moving targets where they can be found.
HBO is hoping that the mobile on-demand service will help make subscribers more loyal. “It’s logical that when usage goes up, your churn rate will stabilize or go down,” said Quentin Schaffer, a spokesman for the network.
HBO and Cinemax lost 1.6 million subscribers in 2010.
That’s not all that surprising, as the habits of television viewers change and young people shift their attention to things other than TVs.
The service will be available as part of a subscription to the cable channel, and will be available on most cable systems (not Time-Warner, ironically, or Cablevision). HBO programs are currently available for rent on Amazon and on iTunes, though not all its programming is available there.
The only way for Hollywood to find out if streaming revenue can replace the lost pot of gold that DVDs once were is to try it.
Now everybody is.