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With HBO’s new video teaser for the April 1 launch of its HBO Go service on Xbox Live, the big question is: Which of the top cable, satellite and telco TV service providers will let their customers watch Go on the Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) game console?
As of Wednesday, when Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) made the service available to its nearly 3.2 million subscribers, HBO Go is finally, well, almost everywhere, available to 98 percent of houses that subscribe to pay television. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) Inc. is aggressively pushing the industry-wide TV Everywhere initiative, which calls for TV programming to be opened up to a wide range of digital devices, accessible to anyone on their computer, tablet or smart phone provided they can “authenticate” that they have a paid cable, satellite or telco TV subscription. And the HBO Go service is the leading edge of that push — no other TV programming supplier has made more deals and infiltrated its TV Everywhere service further than HBO.
But it’s not really everywhere just yet.
In addition to mobile devices, Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes has strongly urged pay TV providers to also allow authentication of TV Everywhere services in the living room. And since the end of October, HBO Go has been available on the set-top boxes of Roku, one of the so-called over-the-top services.
But even though all of the big cable and satellite companies have agreements in place to authenticate HBO, as first reported by GigaOM in November, three of the top four service providers — Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA), DirecTV (NYSE: DTV) and Time Warner Cable, which collectively control over half of U.S. pay TV homes — still won’t allow their subscribers to watch it via Roku.
Meanwhile, last month, HBO Go finally rolled out on Samsung smart TVs, but Comcast, the No. 1 cable company in America with over 22 million subscribers, won’t authenticate it on those sets. Neither will No. 3 provider Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).
Now, with HBO Go set to roll out on Xbox Live — perhaps the biggest over-the-top service of them all, with 40 million subscribers worldwide — media technology analysts including BTIG Research’s Richard Greenfield are curiously waiting to see who allows their subscribers in. As Greenfield noted Thursday, Comcast has a deal in place to make its on-demand programming, including HBO Go, available on Xbox Live through its Xfinity app.
However, while broadly criticizing the set-top programming interfaces and remote controls the cable industry leases to its customers, Greenfield called upon Comcast to allow its subscribers to directly access the HBO Go app on Xbox Live for what he calls a “simpler, cleaner user experience.”
In fact, in an earlier but related blog post, Greenfield urged companies including Comcast to stop clinging to a model under which they lose money by leasing set-top boxes to their customers.
His central thesis: the faster cable companies like Comcast enable their customers to access their programming bundles through broadband-enabled services like Xbox Live and Roku, the quicker profits will ramp up for these cable companies’ higher-margin internet service provider operations.