After hanging back while its pay-cable competitors joined the rush to offer programming online, HBO is testing the broadband waters.
On Tuesday (Jan. 22), the premium channel will launch HBO on Broadband, a service that allows subscribers to stream HBO online and temporarily download titles on demand. The service will be offered initially as a free add-on for Time Warner Cable subscribers in Green Bay, Wisc.; the company, a division of Time Warner, declined to detail plans for a national rollout.
Time Warner has 576,000 subs—365,000 of them digital—in the Milwaukee area where HBO on Broadband is launching. It's those digital subscribers who will be able to access the broadband channel.
Available only to subscribers to HBO, HBO On Demand and their chosen operator's high-speed Internet service, HBO on Broadband offers a 700 kbps live stream of HBO's main feed. But the key feature is the rotating mix of theatrical titles and original programming—some 400 total hours a month—that users can download and keep on their hard drives for up to four weeks.
"This is part of our overall strategy of enhancing value for HBO subscribers by providing greater access to content," says HBO Co-President Eric Kessler, who likened the launch to the company's rollout of HBO On Demand in Columbia, S.C., in 2001.
The new service allows users to assemble and manage a library of downloads, as well as set parental controls, through a Microsoft Windows-based application (Wisconsin subscribers can download it at HBOonroadrunner.com). HBO is developing a separate Mac application and is looking at offering the service on Windows-based portable devices down the road.
HBO's approach reflects its concern for protecting its subscription business model, as well as its relationships with operators.
"We've always embraced technology," Kessler adds. "And this is a subscription business that has value over the long term because broadband penetration and convergence will grow."
Anne Becker contributed to this story