Why HBO’s web-only subscription is great news for Apple TV

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Photo: Apple

The death of cable TV bundling is nearly upon us, as signaled by HBO’s announcement today that it will offer an internet-based streaming subscription in 2015.

“That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped,” said HBO CEO and chairman Richard Plepler. “It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO.”

That’s big news in an industry that has been incredibly resistant to disruptors like Apple. And the Apple TV specifically stands to gain immensely from this shift towards Hollywood finally selling premium content unbundled.

HBO Go has been available on devices like the Apple TV for some time, but it currently requires an associated cable subscription to work. That will no longer be the case after HBO’s new plan comes out. Instead, users will pay a monthly fee for full access to HBO’s catalog of movies, TV shows, and event coverage.

The internet-only subscription will initially only be available in the United States. HBO says that it will continue to “work with our current partners” and “explore models with new partners” to widen availability.

The Apple TV is also something Apple has been exploring, even though it doesn’t look like it from the outside. The company’s grand vision for turning the TV industry on its head and offering content a la carte has reportedly been met with continued opposition from cable companies, which already pay HBO handsomely to bundle its content with your monthly TV bill.

The last real reason to own a cable subscription is sports coverage

Soon you’ll be able to watch HBO legally with just an internet connection and smartphone, tablet, or Apple TV. The last real reason to own a cable subscription is sports coverage, but if HBO can crumble and embrace the internet, expect ESPN to follow.

Does Apple still want to make the TV industry better for consumers, just like it did for personal computers, phones, and tablets? Absolutely. And it will need key players like HBO on its side when it’s time for consumers to make a choice: renew the cable, or buy Apple’s latest gizmo.

It will take some more time before the majority doesn’t need to pay for TV in the traditional sense, but Apple has proven time and time again that it’s willing to wait for the right pieces to fall into place. Cable companies should be sweating bullets over HBO’s new plan. Apple, on the other hand, only stands to benefit.