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November 24, 2006

HBO Announces Preliminary Plans for Launching Broadband Channel

News broke this week of potential HBO plans for an Internet TV channel that would be made available to the subscribers to its cable television network. The broadband channel would likely be used primarily as a tool for cross-platform distribution, being made available for its existing subscribers and giving them an additional way to access the HBO content.

Richard Keller at TV Squad writes that "HBO is slightly behind the curve when it comes to broadband content, most likely due to the fact that it is a subscriber service. Over the last year the four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, The CW is really just an infant network) have begun offering free downloads of their programs, as well as web-only based content, through their own sites or through partners such as Yahoo and YouTube."

The company is currently negotiating with cable operators in order to facilitate such a service, according to Joshua Chaffin and Aline van Duyn with The Financial Times, and they plan only to make this type of move in conjunction with the cable operators that the HBO model is completely dependent upon at this point.

The announcement came only days after a piece on Steve Safran's Lost Remote about HBO's public pride in not having a digital strategy. Safran related a story in which a reporter asked HBO for a quote about their online strategy and was told "there's not a business model presenting itself that will replicate the existing subscription model we have" and, further, that "you won't be seeing HBO throwing new episode up on iPod." Safran had a short and simple message for the network: "It's not about replicating your existing subscription model or "throwing" episodes onto iPods. It's about new channels of distribution for your programming. You mostly show old movies. How long do you think there will be a demand for that? Your original shows are Bittorrented as soon as they are shown and are 'thrown' onto iPods whether you want it or not. It's fine if you can't sort out a digital strategy. Just don't be so proud about it."

An anonymous reader suggested that the comment was just HBO being coy: "Take a look at the kind of positions they're hiring."

It does indeed appear that HBO is readying itself for an interesting new approach to launching into cross-media content, but it will be instructive to see how they are able to negotiate this deal between their desire to launch their strong brand into the digital space and to subsequently keep the services on which they run happy.

HBO will also launch an Internet comedy channel by partnering with AOL early next year, according to a Reuters story earlier in November. According to the Reuters story, "Putting HBO shows online could risk angering cable affiliates and operators who charge subscribers fees to watch the network. HBO sees the new site, which will replace AOL's Comedy channel, as a breeding ground for new programs that could be shown on other HBO services such as its cable network." It will be located here.

Some have warned over the past year that HBO's reluctance to launch into cross-platform distribution would ultimately hurt the company's reputation as an elite network, feeling that companies who were being more progressive about how they offer content were gaining greater cultural cache for their brand. What will HBO's launch into a new space look like, and how will a potential new revenue model to provide cross-platform access for subscribers look?

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