HBO on Your iPad? There Won’t Be an App for That (For a While).

Published on May 6, 2010
by Peter Kafka

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy a subscription to HBO without having to pay for cable? You could just beam the shows straight to your laptop or iPad or whatever.

Not going to happen. At least not anytime soon, says Jeff Bewkes. The Time Warner (TWX) boss was asked about that scenario during yesterday’s earnings call and promptly batted it down. The short version goes something like this: The cable business is a very good business for us. Why would we want to screw with that?

The longer version, via Seeking Alpha, is worth reading, too:

Don’t get ahead of yourself. I would say, yes, HBO could easily do that. The question is, is whether it would in its interest to do that. Remember, HBO GO means that all the HBO subscribers in the United States are going to have HBO programming on demand across every device for no extra charge. So that is a powerful offering. And that will mean, if they want to access it on the broadband device, including any device made by any company, could be Korean, could be Apple, when they turn the thing on, they’ll be looking at HBO. So they don’t need to make a deal or an arrangement or diffuse some of the money or leverage to a device maker because they’ll view on every device for no extra charge. It’s a very powerful position. Not only HBO will be in that position, every network on the dial is going to be in that position, and so is every magazine.

There’s a twofer buried in there:

  • A reiteration of the “TV Everywhere” strategy Bewkes champions, whereby paying cable subscribers–but only paying cable subscribers–get to watch their shows on the Web, too.
  • And some chest-pounding about not letting Apple (AAPL) or anyone else dictate how Time Warner distributes its stuff.

Still! Note that Time Warner’s Time Inc. unit is falling over itself to rush out magazine apps for Apple’s iPad. Apple has a great deal of say over how those apps work, and it gets to collect 30 percent of the sale price. So Bewkes’s position has plenty of flexibility.

In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if HBO does market an online-only subscription in a couple of years, especially if cord-cutting moves from apocryphal trend to documented fact.

The cable guys won’t like it, but the cable guys didn’t like it when HBO and other networks began selling their stuff to the satellite guys back in the 90s. As long as Bewkes can tell the cable guys that he’s selling his online stuff at the same price as his offline stuff, there’s not a lot they can do.

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