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HBO Now’s Exclusive Arrangement With Apple Is a Groin Punch to Cord Cutters

By Brian Byrd | Trade News | March 10, 2015 | Comments ()

By Brian Byrd | Trade News | March 10, 2015 |


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Pajibiz is an occasional roundup focusing on entertainment business stories - acquisitions, casting news, series pickups, ratings and other interesting newsy stuff that doesn’t merit a full post. If there’s a story or trend you’d like to see covered in this space, too bad, go start your own blog shoot me an email. First person to make a Darren Rovell joke gets banned back to the Cretaceous Period.

In the battle between cord cutters and cable companies, progress is often measured on a one step forward, one crippling fall down a flight of concrete stairs back scale. Online viewing proponents celebrated last year when HBO announced the launch of a standalone streaming service beginning in April 2015. For the first time, consumers would be able to legally access HBO programming without a cable subscription. On the human achievement scale, this product lands somewhere between air conditioning and the Fleshlight.

It was, predictably, too good to be true.

Monday, the premium cable giant released additional details about the service, including the name (HBO Now), price ($15) and accessibility. The first two are quite reasonable. That last piece, though, has sparked anger across the Internet outrage machine.

It turns out that only iOS users will have access to HBO Now next month. Apple revealed an exclusive partnership with HBO during its “Spring Forward” event, announcing that the HBO Now app will be limited to the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV devices for the first 90 days. Granted, there’s a small loophole — users can watch all HBO programming at HBONow.com once they’ve subscribed to the service through their Apple device — but anyone with an Android, Windows Phone or Surface tablet, Chromecast, Roku or Amazon Fire TV is out of luck until summer…just in time to miss Game of Thrones’ entire fifth season.

Those who live outside the Apple ecosystem are understandably irate. Android dominates both the smartphone (78.9 percent) and tablet (62 percent) markets, and Google has sold over 10 million Chromecast dongles in less than two years, yet those users are shut out until July at the earliest. Same for Amazon (which already offers select HBO content via Prime) and Roku.

So why do this? For one, HBO avoids having to create a digital distribution infrastructure from scratch. Customers can simply go to the App Store, download HBO Now, and start watching. On Apple’s side, the move appears designed largely to boost declining Apple TV sales (other than connecting your PC, iPhone or iPad directly to your television via HDMI or adapter, Apple’s outdated streaming box is the only way to get HBO Now to your flatscreen). The once-popular device has fallen to third in streaming media sales behind Roku, which accounts for 29 percent of the market, and Chromecast (20 percent). By making Apple TV the only bridge between HBO and your television, Cupertino hopes to force consumers into purchasing hardware along with the content.

But even though Apple reaped rewards from similar strategies in the past (the first iPhone was an AT&T exclusive), this approach seems less likely to succeed. The iPhone was a new product that instantly revolutionized the smartphone market, and there were no alternative entry points. This is a TV channel consumers can already access through multiple avenues — a cable subscription, a friend’s HBO Go password or torrents. HBO Now’s target audience — mostly young, tech-savvy consumers who want to watch Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley without a cable package — won’t shell out for an Apple TV even at the new $69 price point. They’ll simply pirate or borrow an HBO Go login until the service is available on their preferred platform.

It’s tempting to argue that HBO left money on table by partnering with Apple. Given that Google and Amazon could have easily supplied the same infrastructure, though, it’s hard to believe Apple didn’t hand HBO a massive check or reduce the customary 30 percent fee they charge on all iTunes subscriptions to ensure temporary exclusivity. Whatever the rationale, the result is yet another important but frustratingly incremental step toward true viewing independence.

The Godtopus’ Dozen (Nine industry Stories You May Have Missed)
Talib Kweli, Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Anthrax headline the second installment of Catch The Throne, a Game of Thrones-themed mixtape that releases March 17th. Check out the first single, “Lord of the Light.” (Complex)

Like the Cubs, AMC can’t find more than one hit no matter what they do. So it comes as no surprise that the network already picked up its Walking Dead spinoff (currently titled Cobalt) for two seasons despite not yet airing a single episode. Some hack blogger has the details, plus everything we know so far about the spin-off. (Uproxx)

Here’s a comprehensive guide to every network pilot for 2015-16. I’m shorting the hell out of The Advocate, Joe Time, and everything on NBC. (THR)

The full third-season trailer for Orphan Black includes a guy with a creepy mustache wearing a Bluetooth.

The lone remaining quality network sitcom, The Last Man on Earth, lost 25 percent of its premiere audience going up against The Walking Dead on Sunday. Depressing, but it performed much better than Vince Gilligan’s Battle Creek, which is up shit’s creek after Sunday’s airing posted a dismal 0.8 in the 18-49. (Deadline)

The next season of Homeland will jump two years into the future and take place in Europe. Joanna has the appropriate GIF reaction. (Vanity Fair)

James Gunn went on Facebook and told people Marvel wouldn’t be at Comic-Con this year. Since that convention basically revolves around the MCU, you might want to hold off putting your passes on Craigslist until there’s official word either way. (IGN)

Speaking of comic book movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron is tracking toward a record $217 million opening weekend. Also, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is estimated to make $57 million more than it should. (Pro Box Office)

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