It's Not the Web, It's HBO

HBO is giving its subscribers the opportunity to watch The Wire on their laptops.

The network launched into cyberspace Monday (Jan. 21) with the debut of its HBO On Broadband service in Time Warner Cable's Wisconsin division, featuring more than 400 hours of Hollywood movies like King Kong and original shows like Entourage. HBO co-president Eric Kessler said the service, along with the network's on-air multiplex channels and its video-on-demand offering, provides yet another platform for viewers to access the network's content.

The catch: You have to subscribe to HBO and HBO On Demand, as well as to your cable operator's high-speed Internet service, such as Time Warner's Road Runner or Cablevision Systems' Optimum Online.

And you can't download HBO content off the service from the road. In an effort to curtail potential theft and pirating, the service — which also includes a live feed of HBO's primary channel — cannot be accessed beyond the subscriber's home Internet footprint, according to Kessler.

Consumers can watch HBO On Broadband content already downloaded to a laptop, but such content will eventually be erased from the user's hard drive once it's no longer available on the broadband site.

“We didn't want someone to be an HBO subscriber and then pass along his password to his friends,” he said. “We want to enhance the value to HBO subscribers.”

It's unclear how many of the 576,000 subscribers within the Time Warner Wisconsin division's footprint are HBO subscribers and thus would have immediate access to the broadband service. Time Warner executives could not be reached for comment at press time.

Kessler said the service will gradually roll out in all Time Warner Cable systems. He added the network is talking to other operators about launching the service but has yet to complete any deals.

The broadband application, which has to be installed on a computer via CD, will allow consumers to create a personal library from over 600 titles of content from such categories as movies, series, sports, comedy and documentaries from its homepage. Missed the latest episode of The Wire? Each episode will be available to download to home computers the minute after it airs on HBO, unlike its HBO On Demand service which offers new shows every Monday.

Using a high-speed connection, users can download full-length movies within 15 to 20 minutes and 30-minute shows inside of a minute, according to the network. Users can also watch shows in real time during the download process.

Subscribers can also manage their viewing habits through a Series Pass capability, which will allow for automatic downloads of new episodes from original shows when they arrive on the service.

Users can download the application on as many as five computers and can create up to four sub accounts. The main account holder can affix parental controls on each sub account, which automatically rebuilds the interface to a more user-appropriate version.

For digital multitaskers, the main screen can be reduced in size and placed in a corner of the screen, on top of other Windows-based applications.

Kessler would not estimate which percentage of HBO subscribers would eventually utilize the broadband service, but said other distribution platforms, such as HBO On Demand and the network's seven multiplex channels, currently represent 20% and 50% of HBO's overall viewership, respectively.

“We know that the more people use HBO and the more they're satisfied with it, the longer people stay with the service,” he said. “We anticipate that people will like [the broadband service], accept it and eventually use it.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.