HBO Doesn't (and Shouldn't) Want Your Money

The Internet is a pretty fickle place. The people on here have their likes, their dislikes, and opinions can change often with only a single news story or new fact. But one thing the people of the Web hold dear to their heart is their pirating. Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with their reasoning or feel that it's wrong, and no matter what governments and movie industries around the world try to do, sites like The Pirate Bay are here to stay, and there will always be a lot of people who will simply download their shows instead of watching them whenever a network tells you to watch them.

So it's kind of interesting to stumble onto a site like Take My Money, HBO from web designer Jack Caputo, a site that, as he claims, aims to "try and grab HBO's attention", to get them to "offer a standalone HBOGO streaming service" and to take the money of the people who don't (or as he says, can't) pay for the channel to begin with. These people don't want to pay for hefty cable packages, they don't want their money going to big business executives at these companies and to channels they never watch, but they do like what HBO does and they want to be able to watch their shows legally, without having to subscribe to 50 other channels just for the opportunity to pay more to subscribe to HBO.

But here's the thing. HBO doesn't want your money. They don't want to launch a streaming-only service for the layman, and they don't want to make their product available to just about anyone who has a few bucks to spend on the latest Game of Thrones episodes. And while a lot of the people reading this might not understand why or agree with it, the reason is actually quite simple and quite logical.

Crane Your Neck for HBO

They call HBO a "premium" cable network for a reason. For the sake of comparison, let's say that the major players on television are car companies (and I apologize in advance if I get any of my car facts wrong). The networks, they're the big-time players that you'll likely buy a car from at some point in your life. ABC is Ford, Fox is Chrysler, CBS is Toyota, NBC is GM (the CW is the Geo Metro). They definitely have their flaws, but they also have their nicer cars, but most of it is relatively accessible to everyone, one way or another.

Then you have cable. Cable can range from the shittiest models of cars imported from China for a few thousand dollars, to the best of the best that cost extravagant amounts but make up for it in quality. The "better" basic cable networks such as FX and Comedy Central are your BMWs and Mercedes, higher end brands that also have more affordable models, the poor man's expensive car, if you will, and as you move up, the better channels are the car companies that are less accessible to people. AMC is Porsche, Showtime is Ferrari, and, back to the subject at hand, HBO is Aston Martin. The top of the line, the most expensive and beautiful cars, the fastest cars that you turn your head to see the odd time you'll see one on the road.

And that's what's important here: you don't see them very often on the road for reason. Aston Martin doesn't want you, the average consumer, you have one of their cars. They don't want their top models sitting in suburban driveways, they don't want them to be a common sight on the highway when you're on your way to work. It's a matter of prestige, of luxury, of reputation. The reason you crane your neck to look at an Aston Martin is because it's rare. If Aston Martin started making cheaper models, then that would hurt their prestige. As a guy who works a low-level position in an office, and does some blogging on the site, I could go out right now and buy a low-end BMW and be able to afford it with some budgeting. It would look nice, it would likely impress my friends, but it wouldn't really be that impressive, because I was able to get one on a slightly-above-poverty salary. The big time luxury car players don't want that.

While practically it's obviously a little different, the reasoning for HBO's business model is similar. They're considered the most prestigious, arguably the best network out there. Their programs are always up for awards at the Emmys, Golden Globes, etc, and they consistently attract top-level actors to their programs, not to mention all the big stars they create. In the last few years, you've had the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Bill Paxton, Julia-Louis Dreyfus and the Aaron Sorkin written "The Newsroom" with Jeff Daniels set to debut later in June pass through the network. For the sake of comparison, the biggest stars network was able to summon for the upcoming season were Kevin Bacon and Lucy Liu.

If HBO was as accessible as NBC or Fox, do you think that all these stars would flock to these dramas and comedies? The answer is quite clearly no, even if it's more complex than simple prestige. Hell, even someone like Kevin Bacon only agreed to appear on Fox's "The Following" if he could get an abnormal 15-episode pick-up, forcing it back to mid-season. These stars don't want to work as long as network shows usually require, and they want hard-hitting, edgy, well-written drama that rivals what they do on film, and HBO can offer that because of two reasons; the prestige, and the fact that the money they make is enough to let them do whatever they please artistically.

A Matter of Money

And that's the other point, the financial aspect of all of this. I'm an accountant, I have a background in business and finance, but I'm not going to pretend I know the inner workings of a company's finances with the information I have available to me. But at the same time, certain things are pretty obvious. For example, if HBO wasn't so profitable, they wouldn't spend millions assuring that shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire have incredibly high production values, and attract the best actors and guest stars. If these shows weren't making them money in their current format and revenue streams, they wouldn't be making them. At the same time, shows like that wouldn't work on the networks (regardless of decency standards for broadcast), because they'd have to interrupt them every 10 minutes for a four minute commercial break, and they'd limit their budgets to what's feasible in comparison to those ad revenues. HBO doesn't have commercials or advertisers, they have subscriptions and money that pours in from cable companies.

If HBO suddenly started offering GO to anyone, or started offering Game of Thrones on sale on iTunes per-episode or whatever, what do you think all those people with cable subscriptions would do? My job requires me to be a TV junkie, but a lot of people just want to watch HBO, Showtime and AMC drama on Sunday nights. The broadcast networks and basic cable are readily and legally accessible online in most cases, so when you boil it down, you're really paying $100 bucks a month for two or three premium cable channels, and you're paying to watch when they tell you to watch. If they make it easier for you to watch their shows, subscriptions go down, first to their specific channels. If subscriptions to HBO drop, then cable providers might consider dropping them from their slate (as they still pay a fee on top of royalties on subscriptions), and if that happens, even more people will cut the cord (and paying cable subscribers are already dropping like flies as it is).

Even if there might be people willing to pay exorbitant amounts for an HBOGO subscription, the company would still have to find an average to charge (Tech Crunch says that's $12 a month), and there's no way that average would be able to make up for the money they make from traditional subscriptions and eventual DVD and merchandise sales, not to mention syndication deals, even if that number is higher than the average cost of a subscription currently. And that's not even factoring in the added costs marketing and distribution that they would have to account for after losing support from cable providers, as Tech Crunch also mentioned. And we're not going to even bother trying to deal with the mess that it would create for its Time Warner sister-companies, like all the other networks their parent company owns, the film distributors, and (even though they're independent) Time Warner Cable.

Game of Pirates

As it stands, HBO has 29 million subscribers. Their top-rated show Game of Thrones draws in four million viewers an episode, and just as many downloads, according to Torrent Freak. You have to think that at least some of those downloads come from people who have HBO but don't feel like sitting in front of a TV at the time HBO tells them to, and that a lot of those people wouldn't pay for the show even if it was readily accessible, regardless of what The Oatmeal might try to tell you. Even if the people willing to pay are still well over a million, the numbers simply don't add up.

On top of that, even if you're willing to pay for HBOGO, how long to do you keep your subscription? Game of Thrones only lasts a couple of months, and I have a feeling that the people who torrent that show don't watch everything else the network offers. People who subscribe to HBO on cable generally don't unsubscribe when the network isn't showing something they absolutely have to watch. It would be much easier for people to turn their HBOGO subscriptions on and off, and much harder to get them invested in other shows. It's not exactly a $12 a month for $8 a month + cable package swap.

HBO doesn't want your money, because if they take your money, then they'll lose money from the places that render them profitable, and they'll lose the prestige of being TV's best channel, of being as top of the line and as luxurious as it is to be an Aston Martin in a lot full of Honda Civic.

So if you don't want a cable subscription, keep pirating Game of Thrones, and keep stealing GO passwords to watch True Blood. HBO doesn't care as much as you think they might, nor should they.

Comments 2
Matt Bradley's picture

Fine by me. Game of Thrones is on a terrible channel over here too, so I pirate it. If they think they're above me, then they don;t get my money. They get the money of the audience they want it from. Mine obviously isn't good enough.

George Prax's picture

Trust me, they especially don't care about people pirating their shows in countries where their channel isn't even available.