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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

question of the day: Is HBO going online in the right way?

I’ve long been an advocate of TV shows being made available online, but it seems to me that HBO has it entirely wrong:

Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable operator in the country, is working with customers here to test a subscriber model for online TV viewing. Residents who pay for HBO can watch “Big Love,” “Entourage” and other programs on their computers, using special software and a personal log-in. People who are not HBO subscribers are barred from the service.

What? The very people HBO should be targeting — those who are not subscribers — are barred? Shouldn’t HBO be trying to rope nonsubscribers in with an offer of, say, a buck an episode? How does online viewing help HBO if it’s not bringing in more revenue than airing a show only over cable?

But the cablecasters just don’t get it, anymore than the broadcasters get it:

There are also signs that broadcasters and cable networks are worried that their initial, highly publicized push to put some of their programs online may be threatening the higher revenue they bring in when the same material runs on regular television. Cable networks are loath to put programs online unless they can maintain the per-subscriber fee that they receive from distributors.

It’s like the buggy-whip manufacturers are simply pretending cars don’t exist, instead of retooling their factories right now to make steering-wheel covers.

Another trend that terrifies television networks and distributors is the prospect that Web video will move from the PC to the television itself. Products intended to bridge that gap, like the Apple TV set-top box and the Roku digital video player, are now used by only a small percentage of people but could become more popular.

Of course they’re going to become more popular. The Web and TV are going to be the same sooner than these poor deluded folks realize, and no amount of holding their breath will change that.

Or am I wrong? Is HBO going online in the right way?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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