In the old days—the days of Arli$$ and Oz—you needed a cable subscription to watch HBO. Then came HBO Go, which requires a cable subscription and a broadband Internet connection. More recently, the network created HBO Now, a $15-per-month service launching in April that will work using only an Internet connection. Aside from a post-launch exclusivity period for Apple devices (widely rumored to be three months), HBO Now seemed to be the ultimate outcome everyone was hoping for: Your very own a la carte Home Box Office with no strings attached.
Yet the saga continues for some reason, as today, HBO announced that the New York cable provider Cablevision plans to offer HBO Now to customers of its Optimum Online broadband service. The news calls into question the nature of HBO Now, which was pitched as a Netflix-like app in which customers would pay money directly to HBO and watch shows via the web or on a device-specific app. At no juncture would a cable company need to be involved, which is supposedly part of the beauty of the thing.
The press release touting the deal is high on puffery—“We couldn’t be more excited that our longtime partner has joined us for the launch of HBO Now,” says one tumescent HBO executive—but low on details. Neither HBO nor Cablevision has even explained what the word “offer” means in this context. The release simply huffs that “Cablevision plans to provide pricing and other particulars for HBO Now in the coming weeks.”
Although it’s curious that HBO Now, a product designed for cord-cutters, would announce a cable company as one of its first partners, the explanation will likely be something banal. Our best guess is that Cablevision will let users pay for an HBO Now account as part of their monthly broadband bill, maybe at a promotional rate, thus plunging its customers back into the bundling hell that HBO Now was supposed to eliminate. (It’s worth noting, as Deadline’s David Lieberman does, that Cablevision has previously come out in favor of a la carte cable TV pricing, so they’re hardly archvillains on the bundling front.)
The strangest thing about the news is that since anybody can sign up for HBO Now, anybody can offer it, too. That’s why The A.V. Club couldn’t be more excited to announce that we also plan to offer our users HBO Now. Here is a link to hbonow.com. There. We have offered it.