HBO Go heads to FiOS

Online video service in first distribution deal

NEW YORK -- It's go time for HBO! The Time Warner pay TV unit and Verizon FiOS on Wednesday unveiled a deal to bring new online streaming video service HBO Go to FiOS TV subscribers.

It is HBO's first agreement for HBO Go, which features more than 600 hours of programming, compared to 150 hours on the popular HBO OnDemand service, which offers VOD on subscribers' TV screens.

Comcast subscribers get access to the same HBO programming via the cable giant's own branded Web video site Fancast, to which Comcast users who try to access HBO Go get referred.

HBO co-president Eric Kessler said the company is in talks with all distribution partners about further rolling out the service. He described HBO Go as "HBO OnDemand with the engine and styling of a Ferrari."

He said HBO OnDemand offered convenience to consumers and has managed to amass up to 20%-30% (and in some cases even more) of the viewership of content offered. The pay TV company sees HBO Go as the next step in the digital age and a way to strengthen its relationship with subscribers and distributors.

"In an established subscription business like HBO the name of the game is retention," Kessler said.

Asked how much distributors will pay for the new service, Kessler only told reporters at a breakfast event Wednesday that HBO gets paid for its total portfolio of services, and HBO Go will provide further value. There is no advertising on the service, Kessler said.

He also shot down the idea of launching a Web-only service down the line, saying HBO remains focused on reaching TV subscribers in additional ways.

As of Thursday, FiOS TV and broadband users who subscribe to HBO get free, unlimited access to HBO content via the new service, which will allow for up to three simultaneous users from the same household.

HBOGO.com allows consumers to find HBO shows, films, mini-series, documentaries and sports content from the site's homepage and via various search options, including show title and genre searches. The site also offers fans extras, such as interviews and behind-the-scenes segments, plus the ability to create a Watchlist of bookmarked content and a Series Pass for favorite shows.

HBO and Verizon are also in talks about making HBO Go accessible via smart phones -- again without any extra costs to subscribers.

The HBO Go service uses Flash, so it won't work on Apple's iPad in its current version.

Asked whether HBO has plans to offer downloadable content on HBO Go, Kessler said that is "on the horizon." In tests of HBO Go, consumers predominantly wanted to play the content right away, he explained why the focus has been on streaming.

Most content will become available on the service right after its premiere on the HBO TV service. But Kessler said his firm experimented with content premieres and windows on HBO OnDemand by offering select premieres there first, and it will do so again with HBO Go, especially with shows with younger demos.

"HBO Go adds more value to FiOS TV customers' HBO subscriptions with the convenience of accessing their programming in more ways and in more places," said Shawn Strickland, vp of consumer strategy and planning for Verizon.

"Quality content is in the catbird seat as consumers now know they can demand content wherever and whenever they want," Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce said. "In order for distributors, such as Verizon FiOS, to retain customers, they need to broaden the definition of how they will make that content available."

While some have suggested that some families with multiple HBO subscriptions across several homes may share HBO Go and reduce the number of HBO subscriptions, Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield last week lauded the broadband portal concept.
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