At the Apple Spring Forward event today, HBO CEO Richard Plepler stepped on stage to officially announce the network’s new HBO Now standalone service, which will debut “exclusively on Apple devices,” including the iPhone, the iPad, and the Apple TV. In addition, Apple CEO Tim Cook also announced the Apple TV’s price will drop from $99 to $69.
Calling the move a “transformative moment for HBO,” Plepler revealed official pricing for the service, which, as we previously reported, will run $15 a month without the need for a cable or satellite subscription. Plepler also confirmed the service will offer a similar experience to that of the HBO Go app, offering “past, present, and future” HBO content, but without the need for authentication.
While no specific launch date was mentioned, as expected, the service will debut in time for HBO’s newest season of shows like Veep, Silicon Valley, and Game of Thrones. The season 5 premiere date for Game of Thrones is currently set for April 12, 2015. HBO is also debuting the second season of True Detective during summer 2015, another show that will likely generate subscriber interest in HBO Now. However, today’s news does mean that, at least initially, you’ll have to be in the Apple fold to catch the new shows legitimately if you don’t have cable or satellite.
To celebrate the event, Plepler also revealed an exclusive new Game of Thrones Trailer, which gave a telling glimpse at all the carnage, sex, and political intrigue you’d expect from the iconic show for its 5th season. The trailer showed the chess pieces set at the end of Season 4 moving further into place, including Stannis Baratheon’s plan to invade the North, and a possible truce with the Wildlings by the Watchers of the Wall, underlined by a compassionate, yet powerful monologue delivered by Daenerys, Mother of Dragons.
As for the lowered price for the Apple TV, the move seems to stand as a fire sale for the aging device, which hasn’t been updated since 2012. Some analysts have predicted we’ll see a new Apple TV as early as June of this year, with the possibility of a new Apple TV streaming service bundled in, though the latter is much more speculation than fact at this point. No word was given as to how long the service will be exclusive to Apple, but it likely won’t be long. HBO is reportedly working with several other device makers. Sources familiar with the HBO Now project indicated that five companies in total are working with HBO to implement the new service, including Apple, Google, and TiVo.
Google’s Chromecast is an easy sell for HBO Now, given its low cost of around $35. But Google has other devices that would benefit from the partnership as well, including its new Asus-made Google Nexus Player, and the forthcoming Android TV smart TV platform.
As for TiVo, while the company is best known for its rather pricey Roamio DVRs, aimed at those looking to meld streaming apps with cable and satellite subscriptions, it also makes a more affordable version of its popular device specifically designed for use with OTA (over the air) signals from an HD antenna. Adding a jewel like HBO Now into the mix could make for a very alluring package to pitch to the cord-cutter set.
While there’s no confirmation as of yet, popular set-top box manufacturers Roku and Amazon are likely candidates to fill in the other two slots. Roku makes a slew of extremely capable streaming devices, and HBO already has an existing relationship with Amazon, specifically a content licensing deal that brings an archive of older HBO shows to Amazon Instant Video users. Game console manufacturers are also likely to roll out HBO Now applications. Interestingly, Sony and HBO just rolled out a HBO GO application for the PlayStation 4 this week. Of course, accessing HBO GO requires a user to subscribe to the premium channel through a cable or satellite television provider.
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It’s possible that the launch of HBO Now will spur more premium television subscribers to cut the cord and rely on Internet service as well as subscription services like Sling TV, Netflix and Hulu Plus. IBT estimates that HBO may also attract up to 70 million subscribers from the large pool of people that currently don’t subscribe to premium television service.
HBO is relying on Major League Baseball Advanced Media to handle the backbone of HBO Now as well as to build front end applications to stream HBO television shows. Before partnering with the MLB, HBO was attempting to build the HBO Now service in house. Unfortunately, that project wasn’t moving along as quickly as hoped, thus HBO outsourced development. It’s also likely that HBO’s inability to keep up with new episode demand when using the HBO GO application led to that decision.
Assuming HBO is successful with the launch of HBO Now in attracting millions of subscribers, this could pave the way for similar services and applications from other premium television providers like Showtime and Starz. On the network side, NBC announced a plan this week to launch a standalone comedy service to showcase content from shows like Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show. CBS has also gotten into the streaming game with CBS Access last year, but has significantly lagged behind competitors in rolling out access on platforms like set-top boxes and gaming consoles.
Updated 3/9/15 by Ryan Waniata: HBO Now will debut exclusively on Apple devices at launch, Apple TV price drops to $69.
Updated 3/6/15 by Ryan Waniata: This post was updated to include information that Google, Tivo, and other companies are also reportedly working with HBO for its new application.