The Trouble With “Take My Money, HBO”

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HBO in early 2010 began offering HBO GO, a streaming service for its subscribers that went beyond any on-demand service it or any other network had ever offered before: It offers every episode of every season of its most popular past series, from The Sopranos to Curb Your Enthusiasm to The Wire to Deadwood. 

Where access to all of that content previously would have required thousands of dollars in DVD purchases, HBO GO brought that same content for the price of an HBO subscription- even bringing it to multiple devices, from computers to tablets to, thanks to Xbox Live and Roku, the TV itself.

Pretty cool, right? But not everyone is happy with it. A web campaign launched last week called “Take My Money, HBO,” imploring the company to offer HBO GO as a standalone service, for some price below what an HBO TV subscription costs. That way, cord cutters and other non-subscribers to HBO would have an option for watching their favorite shows without signing up with Comcast or Cablevision.

The social media-savvy campaign is told from the point of view of someone already using HBO GO without paying for it. “We pirate Game of Thrones, we use our friend’s HBOGO login to watch True Blood,” the site says. “Please HBO, offer a standalone HBOGO streaming service and Take My Money!” It gives users an easy way to tweet about the campaign.

HBO, according to a piece on the New York Times Decoder blog, isn’t interested in the offer. And it’s not hard to see why- there’s clearly way more money in HBO’s partnerships with cable and satellite providers than there would be from the standalone subscriptions, even taking into account the money lost to piracy and people using their mother’s Verizon FiOS login to watch Girls on their computer. 

Believe me, I agree that the cable TV model needs a shakeup. A la carte cable should’ve been in place years ago, and even if Apple’s upcoming TV doesn’t upset that model, I’ve got a feeling that in the next ten years, something will.

But here’s my problem with the “Take My Money” campaign: HBO GO, even as currently priced, is the best value there is in TV, anywhere. It makes hundreds of episodes of some of the greatest TV shows ever produced available for way less than they used to cost.

And while the primary selling point of an HBO subscription used to be the exclusive ability to watch new Sopranos and Sex and the City episodes, now you can see every episode of every show.

Is that a $15 or $20 value, which is what many of the people on the site offered to pay? No, I’d say it’s worth way more than that.

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