Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

HBO Go Is Nice, But It Won’t Help Cord Cutters

The new “HBO Go” site, which lets you watch some 600 hours of the pay cable service’s programming on the Web, looks nice.

And if you’re a Verizon (VZ) Fios TV subscriber and you pay for HBO, you’ll get access to it for free starting tomorrow. But if you don’t want to wait–and you’re both a Comcast (CMCSA) and HBO subscriber–you can go to Comcast’s and watch the same programming there. It’s all the same stuff.

So to be clear: HBO Go isn’t really a new service. It’s a new site and player*, which perches on top of the same “TV Everywhere” strategy parent company Time Warner (TWX) has been pushing for a year or so. Which you can boil down to: If you pay the cable guys to watch it on TV, they’ll let you watch it online, too.

You can debate the merits of this strategy and whether the programming guys would be better off selling their stuff directly to consumers and skipping the cable middlemen altogether all you want. But the cable-first strategy isn’t going to change anytime soon.

HBO’s aim is to be both “consumer friendly” and “affiliate friendly,” HBO co-president Eric Kessler explained today. Translation: The company wants to make sure it gets paid by the cable guys, who get paid by you and me.

But couldn’t there be some fee I could pay HBO to just go directly to the Web, even at a premium of the price for a regular TV subscription? Nope, says Kessler, who then repeats something you often hear from the cable TV industry:

“The scale of the audience that wants to watch HBO that isn’t buying television, it’s a very small audience.”

Meanwhile, HBO Go points out the difficulty would-be online competitors like Netflix (NFLX) and Apple (AAPL) et al will have providing consumers with what they want when they want it: A lot of the digital rights to the stuff they want are already locked up by the likes of HBO during various “windows.”

One other point: Networks like HBO and cable providers like Comcast both want to be the viewers’ gateway to online video, for obvious reasons. But viewers won’t care whether they’re watching “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO’s site or via Fancast; they just want to watch that episode where Marty Funkhouser tells Jerry Seinfeld a really dirty joke.

So someone–it could be the cable guys themselves or a start-up like Clicker–needs to build a comprehensive TV Guide for the Web. And then hope that they’re right about all those people who are happy to keep paying for TV.

*Because you now need to ask this with every consumer tech rollout: No, HBO Go won’t work on the iPad. Because the site’s player is built with Adobe’s (ADBE) Flash, and Apple wants nothing to do with Flash.

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