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.
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.”