Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Sorry, Cord-Cutters! Still No “Game of Thrones” for You.

Nope. You’re still not getting “Game of Thrones” — at least not the current season, at least not legally — without paying for cable.

At least not in the U.S.

Time Warner keeps getting asked about this, and they keep saying the same thing. Even though lots of you say you’d love to buy HBO but don’t want to get a pay-TV subscription, and it’s the future, and it’s inevitable, and Time Warner is stupid for not seeing it your way.

The only wrinkle in the call-and-response came last month, when HBO head Richard Plepler floated the notion of paying for HBO as a broadband-only service — but which would be sold by the broadband guys, who are also the pay-TV guys.

That would be an interesting incremental move, but even that’s not going to happen anytime soon. As soon as Plepler’s comments hit the press, Time Warner officials were walking it back in private.

Today, CEO Jeff Bewkes did the same thing in public, while trying to suggest that Plepler didn’t really mean what he said, anyway. Yes, he told analysts on an earnings call, HBO does sell a broadband-only service in Scandinavia. But the U.S. isn’t Sweden:

HBO’s got 40 million HBO/cinemax subs here. We are vigorously offering HBO Go through all our distributors. If you then go and say, “well should we add it as a broadband-only service?”, which we could do through facilities-based providers, or you could do it through non-facilities based providers, which I think was the discussion Richard was having — we have the rights to do it.

And we would do it if we thought it was in our economic best interest. At this point we don’t think it makes sense. We don’t think the target market is sufficiently large to be attractive at this point. So what we’re doing, and we think this is working pretty well — we’re working with the [pay TV operators] to increase the penetration of HBO Go in a mutually benefical way.

We’re always going to keep evaluating it, depending on the country. And i think that was what Richard was talking about. And I think he’s right to say it that way.

So to sum up: If you think we’re going to do anything to upset the TV Industrial Complex that is now the core of our business, you’re nuts. We need the cable guys to sell our stuff, and we’re not going to bail on that until we have to.

I don’t know what Plepler, a former PR guy who is as savvy as they come, was trying to accomplish by trying to suggest otherwise. Some people I talked to argued that he was trying to send a message to the cable guys about a different discussion, but I can’t really figure that one out, either.

I do know, though, that the cable guys weren’t happy to hear his comments. One top cable executive told me that he was on the phone with Time Warner shortly after Plepler made his comments, to express his great displeasure at the idea.

Which is precisely why it’s not happening anytime soon.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle