It's not TV, it's HBO - on your computer
HBO, one of the few remaining holdouts from online video, is jumping in and offering viewers Sopranos on the go.
On Tuesday, the pay-cable network unveils HBO On Broadband, featuring 400 hours of movies and original series that can be downloaded to computers.
The catch: To gain access, you must be a digital cable customer who subscribes to HBO, and you must use your cable company as your Internet provider. And, at least initially, you must live in Milwaukee or Green Bay, where Time Warner Cable will first test the service. (There's no extra cost for online access.)
Like HBO On Demand, introduced in 2001, HBO Broadband offers a broad selection of programming, including 130 movie titles that rotate monthly and top hits ranging from The Sopranos to Sex and the City, as well as documentaries. Usually, about six episodes will be offered at any one time, but for one series every month, every episode ever produced will be available.
HBO co-president Eric Kessler blames technological issues for the delay in offering online video but says the new service continues the network's plan to "enhance the value of the HBO subscription by giving viewers greater access to our content."
He says the service will most appeal to business travelers who want to watch HBO on the road and younger viewers "who generally tend to watch more TV through their PCs." A Macintosh version of the service is not yet available, nor is it compatible with Apple's iPods. And satellite-dish providers such as DirecTV can't offer it.
Compared with HBO On Demand, a subscription service that reaches about one-third of HBO's 29 million homes, the broadband service offers more than twice as much programming.
Users can program their computers to download new movies or episodes, DVR-style, as they become available. The service recommends programs based on viewing history, offers different user accounts for family members and includes parental controls that restrict access by rating. And it includes a live feed of HBO's main channel in the Eastern time zone.
So far, HBO has offered only a limited amount of programming as iTunes podcasts and on its own website, usually clips or sample episodes.
But "it's inevitable for all TV networks that they have some broadband play," says SNL Kagan analyst Deana Myers. "There's a whole generation of people growing up using the Internet."
Like On Demand, HBO On Broadband is designed to keep subscribers from pulling the plug, and it may spur some to "bundle" their cable and Internet service with one company.
"It encourages customers to take our bundle and keep it," says Peter Stern, executive VP at Time Warner Cable, which says 365,000 Wisconsin customers will have access to the new service. No timetable has been set for expanding the service to other cable companies or Time Warner systems.
HBO BUYS U.S. TV RIGHTS TO SECOND LIFE MACHINIMA SERIES, PROMOTES IT AS OSCAR NOMINEE CONTENDER
On March 2nd, a mysterious Second Life machinima appeared on YouTube, purporting to be a documentary by a heretofore unknown Resident named Molotov Alva (now viewable here) describing his disappearance from the material world into SL. At the time, I called it "evocative, vivid, and beautifully produced", but knew little else about its origins. Later I learned that Alva was the SL avatar of Douglas Gayeton, an accomplished multimedia director. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one impressed, because Gayeton just let me in on a truly gigantic announcement:
"HBO purchased the North American television rights," Gayeton e-mails me. "They have decided to first submit it for an Oscar in the Animated Short Subject category." It'll soon be screened in a Los Angeles theater to meet the Academy's qualifications for nomination. "They are then hoping to premiere it at Sundance. It will probably screen next spring on HBO." (Originally called "My Second Life", it'll probably air under a new name, likely something reminiscent of a 19th century novel title.) [Update, 4:00pm: According to Adam Reuters, the deal was for "a six-figure sum."]
This is the rare Second Life news that is worthy of full superlatives: it's the highest profile example of an SL-to-RL rights deal so far, leveraging Linden Lab's policy in which Residents retain the