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Opinion: Added streaming option can keep HBO afloat

Eric Kessler, then co-president of HBO, helped launch HBO GO in 2011. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Eric Kessler, then-co-president of HBO, helped launch HBO GO in 2011.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler announced that the popular cable channel will offer a stand-alone streaming service, according to a Wednesday press release.

That makes HBO the latest domino to fall in television’s transition to an on-demand all-the-time binge-watching service.

HBO GO, which currently requires a cable subscription for streaming, has prompted many would-be viewers to plead for a streaming-only service to skip the cable middleman. In 2015, they’ll get their wish.

This serves as the latest hit to cable companies, which are running out of ways to convince their customers not to switch to being broadband-only households.

Cable packages tend to include superfluous channels on top of the ones customers target. This helps lead to the “hundreds of channels, nothing to watch” conundrum. More and more, it seems sports channels are the only compelling reason to get a cable box, as it is still hard to come by reliable high-definition streams of sporting events.

The success of Netflix, on the other hand, is massive, along with the growth of Hulu, Amazon Prime and newcomer FXNOW. The streaming industry has grown rapidly from being an instant video rental to legitimate television and movie production company.

As things stand, Netflix is currently king of streaming, with more than 50 million subscribers and jumping from 14 to 31 Emmy nominations for their original programming from 2013 to 2014. They brought back “Arrested Development,” they produced the hit “House of Cards” and now, they even have a four-movie deal with Adam Sandler, according to their Twitter account on Oct. 1. And all for just $7.99 a month.

With HBO’s entrance into the ring, Netflix now has direct competition with the channel that quite possibly creates the most consistently high-quality programming on television. A quick look at HBO’s resume shows us “The Sopranos,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Wire,” three of your TV snob friend’s favorite shows. By the way, have they told you how good “True Detective” is yet? “True Detective” is so good.

It also has “Game of Thrones,” which is the most popular show on television by pirating standards, beating AMC’s “The Walking Dead” in illegal downloads as reported by The Telegraph in April. Now HBO is going to create easy access for fans to turn their torrent files into monthly subscriptions. That will be huge, especially if they have a competitive price.

This news is perhaps the best for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” The show’s YouTube channel has garnered more than 121 million hits for its various long-form satire news pieces, so it seems right at home on the Internet. 

Oliver has already brought the cults of “The Daily Show” and “Community” to his new weekly program, two shows with young, Internet-oriented audiences. But with the assured expansion of his viewership by HBO’s new streaming service, his following could become far more mainstream. 

“Last Week Tonight’s” main strength is focusing on a main story, such as drone strikes or student loan debt, where he reveals to the audience how the world is absolutely hypocritical and terrifying. He even accomplishes this without bringing harm to our psyches by delivering it with his charming British accent and self-effacing nature.

These pieces, which tend to run more than 10 minutes, are the most popular clips on the show’s YouTube channel. This flies in the face of the Internet’s tendency to favor short clips, but illustrates that people are ready and willing to stare at their computer screens longer for this HBO content. 

The fact is that watching live television is becoming less and less of a thing altogether, at least for scripted programs. “Seinfeld” had premiere ratings that would make it tied for the No. 1 show today, but was No. 14 in 1989, according to The Wrap.

It is now far easier to watch shows on your time and stick to programming you care about, especially if it means skipping the commercials. 

Even syndication is a friend to the streaming services. Netflix announced Wednesday on Twitter that starting Jan. 1, every episode of “Friends” will be added to its list of shows. Social media went wild. Sure, TBS shows “Friends” constantly already, but now you can skip right to the episodes you care about, or watch the whole series from start to finish. 

Binge-watching seems to be more popular than ever, and while HBO has not been incredibly quick on the trigger, its quality of programming still allows its announcement to be a major splash.

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