HBO GO Without Paying for Cable? It May Be a Tease

A white walker from HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Courtesy HBO

Once again, Home Box Office is hinting that maybe, possibly, someday soonish, fans of the network’s shows might be able to watch them legally without having to pay for a monthly cable or satellite TV subscription. For the time being, however, the suggestion remains a tease.

On Wednesday, Richard Plepler, HBO’s chief executive officer, told Reuters that the network is currently mulling ways to expand access to its online streaming service, HBO GO. The network launched HBO GO three years ago, allowing its more than 6 million registered users to watch such shows as Game of Thrones and Girls on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. So far, though, its use is restricted to HBO subscribers, meaning you can’t sign up for HBO GO without also paying for a cable or satellite TV package.

That could change, Plepler said on Wednesday. In the future, the network could conceivably sell HBO GO as an add-on to broadband Internet packages. In theory, customers paying for broadband access could lay out an extra $10 to $15 a month for an HBO GO subscription without also paying for cable TV.

It’s not the first time Plepler has floated the idea. He said something similar at a public event back in January. The challenge, he said at the time, is figuring out how to cater to Internet-only viewers without alienating HBO’s partners in the cable and satellite distribution business.

“There are billions and billions of dollars in revenues that are part of our distribution landscape, and to simply circumvent that—even though we understand there is a part of our audience which would subscribe to the network if they didn’t have to have a cable package or a satellite package—just doesn’t make business sense for us to do,” said Plepler. “Doesn’t mean we are not mindful that the problem exists.”

In other words, cord cutters shouldn’t rejoice just yet.

“So, could it happen one day?” writes Peter Kafka. “Sure, I guess. But not for a long time, because right now the current system—where HBO (and Showtime) are only available to pay TV customers who also buy a lot of other TV channels—works well for the guys who own the shows, and the guys who own the pipes.”