HBO Will Finally Offer a Cable-Free Option Next Year

'It is time to remove all barriers'

It is known. Photo: HBO

HBO Go has finally done what subscribers have been begging for since the announcement of the streaming service: It's dropping the cable-subscription requirement.

A streaming network, offering access to Game of Thrones and other massively popular HBO programs, will be available without a cable package starting next year, HBO CEO Richard Plepler announced at Time Warner's investor day event this morning.

This has been in the air for a while—HBO Go has been available on progressively smaller cable packages over recent months, but never totally subscription-free. But there's a fairly large burden of proof on Time Warner today, as it fends off angry stakeholders still sore over the company's rejection of 21st Century Fox's $85-a-share offer for the company (the stock sits at $71.85 at the time of this writing, down from a high of $87 and change just before the Fox deal collapsed).

The goal today is to give investors a sense that the company has strong growth prospects without consolidation; HBO remains the company's most lucrative single asset outside its movie studio division and is a point of focus during the proceedings. Also at issue—though less pleasant for Time Warner—is the problem of declining ratings at Turner. The subdivision is in the midst of a major round of layoffs during which 10 percent of its workforce is expected to leave.

“It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," Plepler told investors. "So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top HBO service in the United States. We will work with our current partners, and we will explore models with new partners. All in all, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO, and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.” It's important to note that Plepler doesn't say HBO Go specifically will be available sub-free; just that "a stand-alone, over-the-top HBO service" is coming, likely without some of the HBO Go bells and whistles.

Much of this territory has been colonized by Netflix, and it remains to be seen whether people will want another streaming service on top of their current offerings. But HBO Go has been very popular and is frequently spread across users without cable subs through password sharing. This gives HBO a chance to monetize some of that spread and to clamp down on pirates while providing an alternative. Check out the full presentation here.

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