All you need to know about HBO’s new HBO Now streaming service

HBO Now is almost here: HBO officially announced plans to launch its online-only streaming service dubbed HBO Now during Apple’s spring event Monday, and promptly managed to confuse everyone with an exclusive that isn’t quite exclusive and a price that’s not set in stone.

Time to clarify a few things:

What HBO Now is: Think of it as HBO’s answer to Netflix – an online streaming service that gives you access to HBO’s programming, whether you subscribe to cable or not.

The launch date: HBO announced Monday that HBO will be available in early April, or in time for the Game of Thrones season premiere, which is on April 12.

The price: HBO Now will cost $14.99 if you sign up through Apple. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will be paying $14.99 for the service. “Prices may vary by participating partners,” the HBO Now FAQ states. That’s because HBO Now may soon also be available though your cable or internet company, which may decide to give you a deal that looks a lot more like HBO’s current pricing. $10 a month, for example, if you sign up for a certain broadband service tier for 12 months.

The devices: At launch, HBO Now will be available on iPhones and iPads as well as Apple TV and the web. Additional devices are supposed to follow soon, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up for Chromecast and other devices during the first three months due to an exclusive deal between Apple and HBO.

HBO_022015_devices

Where to sign up: At launch, likely the only way to get HBO Now will be to download the service’s iOS app on your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV and sign up from within the app. Apple got a three-month exclusive deal for HBO Now — with an important exception: Internet and pay TV providers will be able to launch their own HBO Now deals within that time period, but none of those deals have been announced yet. Or as the HBO Now FAQ puts it: “We are in discussions with our existing network of distributors that sell broadband and hope to announce such relationships soon.” And after the three months are over, it’s likely that Google, Amazon and others will start selling HBO Now as well.

Where not to sign up: On HBO Now’s home page. This isn’t a direct-to-consumer service, which is the biggest difference to Netflix. HBO still wants others to handle the billing and customer relationships, and has no intention to ask you for your credit card any time soon. “No, a subscription directly through HBO is not something that is currently in our plans,” said a HBO spokesperson when I asked her specifically about this.

What you’ll be watching: HBO Now promises “instant access to every episode of every season of the best of HBO’s award-winning original programming,” which means you’ll be able to binge on Game of Thrones, Girls, True Detective, Veep and more. The service will also offer Hollywood movies after they air in the theaters, documentaries, sports and comedy specials. Oh yeah, and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight will be part of the mix as well. All in all, HBO Now will have more than 2000 episodes of content at launch, according to Monday’s announcement.

What you won’t be watching: Anything live. HBO Now is a pure on-demand service, and won’t carry a live feed of HBO’s cable programming. That also means you won’t be able to tune in live to any of HBO’s boxing games.

What about the rest of the world: HBO Now will only be available in the U.S. at launch — expect your streams to be blocked when you travel abroad as well. However, HBO operates in over 60 countries around the world, and there’s no reason that HBO Now couldn’t eventually expand as well. Again, from the FAQ: “We are exploring international opportunities and will provide updates as available.”

 

HBO officially announces April launch of HBO Now at Apple event

HBO CEO Richard Plepler took to the stage at the Apple Watch event Monday to officially announce the launch of HBO Now, which will debut April in time for the fifth season premiere of Game of Thrones. Apple will be the official launch partner of HBO Now, meaning that the service will initially only be available on Apple TV, as well as on mobile iOS devices and PCs. HBO Now will cost consumers $14.99, with the first month being free for consumers who sign up through Apple in April.

hbo now screenshot

Plepler didn’t go into all of the details on HBO Now, but a press release sent out by Time Warner filled in some of the blanks: HBO Now will offer access to “every episode of every season” of HBO’s shows, as well as Hollywood movies and original HBO films. At launch, the catalog will have more than 2,000 titles. Access will be on demand, and there is no mention of a live feed. Here’s a promo video for the new service:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQEhY_MJk9M]

The HBO Now website is already up, albeit with a very limited placeholder: Order.HBONow.com just lets you sign up for news about the service.

Coinciding with the launch of HBO Now, Apple is also lowering the price of its Apple TV set-top box, which will now only cost $69, compared to $99 before. However, other than the price break, it doesn’t look as if Apple TV is receiving any substantial update.

Comcast customers can finally watch HBO Go on their Rokus

Hell has frozen over for Comcast customers: Subscribers to the company’s Xfinity cable TV service can now watch their favorite HBO shows via HBO Go on Roku streaming devices. Re/code was first to report about a deal between the two companies Monday, and Roku confirmed the breakthrough with a blog post Tuesday, which reads in part:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Just in time for the extra holiday streaming time, we’re pleased to announce Comcast has been added to the list of participating television providers that support HBO GO and SHOWTIME ANYTIME on your Roku device. We are glad to be able to bring this long-awaited feature to Xfinity TV customers.”[/blockquote]

Roku first added a HBO Go app to its streaming boxes in 2011. But as with any of these apps that require users to also get the channel as part of their TV line-up, the app needed users to authenticate with their TV provider — and that’s where Comcast didn’t play ball. Comcast did give subscribers access to HBO Go on mobile devices, but not on anything connected to a TV. One reason was that the company wanted to own the experience on the TV screen, and preferred that users access HBO shows through its own catch-up service.

However, Comcast’s hardball stance eventually caught the eye of regulators. At a time when the company is looking to merge with Time Warner Cable, that alone may have been enough to bring Comcast back to the table and give Roku some advantage in striking a deal.

That could also be good news for other device manufacturers. Comcast is still blocking HBO Go access on Sony’s PS3, Samsung’s smart TVs and Amazon’s Fire TV, all of which likely can’t wait to get a similar deal.

Amazon is adding HBO Go to its Fire TV

HBO is a go for owners of Amazon’s Fire TV: Amazon has added a HBO Go app to its Fire TV set-top box, and promises to bring the same app to the Fire TV Stick this coming spring. Consumers do need to have HBO as part of their TV subscription bundle in order to access HBO GO, and Comcast don’t even have to try, as the company has been blocking HBO Go on most set-top boxes. Here’s how Amazon’s Fire TV Stick compares to Roku’s Streaming Stick and Google’s Chromecast.

HBO Gone: CTO leaves after HBO outsources streaming service

HBO CTO Otto Berkes quit his job Tuesday after news broke that the cable network is outsourcing the development of its online streaming service, which is set to debut next spring.

HBO had announced in October that it wants to go directly to consumers in 2015, selling them a new streaming service that wouldn’t be part of a traditional cable bundle and would more closely competes with Netflix’s video service. At the time, many assumed that the service would be based on HBO Go, the network’s existing TV Everywhere service for cable subscribers.

However, Fortune reported Tuesday that HBO’s leadership decided to outsource the development of the service to MLBAM instead. The Major League Baseball subsidiary already powers streaming services for WWE and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze network as well MLB’s own streaming service. Executives didn’t have confidence in Berkes and his team to pull off the launch of HBO’s forthcoming streaming service, according to the report.

It didn’t take long for Berkes to respond; Variety relayed news of his exit just hours after the original report came out. The industry publication quoted a memo sent out by Berkes, which reads in part:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]“This is a change in direction from what I planned with HBO and the approach will not utilize my overall capabilities. Therefore, I feel that this is the right time for me to move on from HBO.”[/blockquote]

HBO is bringing HBO Go to legacy set-top boxes in Europe

It’s not quite the unbundling many HBO fans have been hoping for, but HBO Go is taking some first steps to bring its HBO Go service to a bigger audience in Europe: The cable network is using cloud virtualization technology from ActiveVideo to bring its online service to legacy set-top boxes in 14 European regions, according to Broadband TV News. The same tech has been used by YouTube to bring its service onto older set-top boxes in Europe, and both services could theoretically use the same approach in the U.S. as well.