HBO’s standalone service goes live

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HBO has launched its streaming subscription service HBO Now, which provides US viewers access to its movies and TV shows without having to pay for a cable subscription.

The launch, timed to coincide with the premiere of the fifth season of Game Of Thrones, went off without a hitch, despite some naysayers anticipating a repeat of the streaming crashes during hot shows on its other internet service, HBO Go.

Last year, HBO hired streaming service provider MLB Advanced Media, created by Major League Baseball, which seems to have solved its bandwidth issues.

So far, HBO Now is only available on Apple devices, including Apple TV, iPad and iPhone, as well as Cablevision Systems’ Optimum Online broadband service for $14.99 a month. In comparison, Netflix and Hulu cost around $8 a month and Amazon Prime Instant Video is $99 a year, including two-day shipping for physical goods.

Other devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation, Xbox and Google Chromecast are expected to offer the service once Apple’s three-month exclusive window expires.

HBO says it is targeting the 10-12 million US households that have broadband but don’t have a cable TV subscription. Although it has all the same content, the service is not the same as HBO Go, which is the internet component of HBO for viewers who pay for it as part of a cable package. So far, HBO Now is only available in the US but the company is “exploring opportunities” in other countries.

Last month, Cablevision Systems broke ranks with other US cable operators and said it would offer HBO Now to its broadband-only customers. Most US cablers are too concerned about the trend of cord-cutting to offer standalone services.

Dish Network’s OTT service Sling TV also offers HBO programming but viewers need to first sign up for its $20 a month ‘cable-lite’ subscription fee.

CBS chief Leslie Moonves has also said that the company plans to create a standalone streaming service for Showtime in the near future.

HBO is renowned for its rich programming, but cord-cutting TV viewers now have to choose between different packages of programming or sign up to multiple services. The choice is between:

* HBO Now – which carries movies and HBO shows such as Game Of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, True Detective and Girls, along with “classics” such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under and Sex And The City.

* Netflix – movies and original shows including House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Marco Polo and Sense8, along with acquired library titles such as Friends, Twin Peaks and Dexter. Through a deal with AMC, Netflix also streams Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

* Amazon Prime Instant Video – currently has less original shows than Netflix, but these include Golden Globe-winning Transparent, as well as Mozart In The Jungle, Alpha House and Betas. Amazon Studios also recently hired veteran indie producer Ted Hope to ramp up movie acquisition and production.

*Hulu – original programming includes Deadbeat, East Los High and Moone Boy and the service also has exclusive SVOD rights to Seinfeld and South Park. It also has shows from its three corporate owners – Fox, ABC and NBC – while its movie offering includes titles from the Criterion Collection.