Can't wait a year for "Game of Thrones"? Credit: HBOFor many viewers, HBO is the killer app of TV. Want to watch "Game of Thrones" — legally? The only way to see it is with a cable or satellite subscription — short of waiting a year to buy episodes from Amazon, iTunes and the like. Now, it seems that cable TV companies are dangling HBO as an incentive to sign up people who have cut the pay-TV cord, or who maybe never even had it.
Recently, Time Warner Cable announced a new package called "Starter TV with HBO" that features HBO along with the four major networks (through their local affiliates), PBS channels, local weather channels, C-Span, and shopping channels HSN, QVC and ShopNBC. The package will have a $29.99 monthly subscription fee for the first year, which will increase to about $45 per month afterward. (The package also requires a set-top box, the cheapest of which rents for $10.25 per month, for a total of $55.25 monthly.)
In late October, rumors were that Comcast would offer a similar deal: HBO with 20 basic channels, but it was bundled with Internet service, called "Internet Plus," for $40 to $50 per month, depending on the market. In New York City, for example, subscribers pay $50, which rises to $70 after one year, not including the additional $9.95 per month for renting the cable box.
The best HBO deals
But how do these bundles compare to the cheapest packages that other pay TV providers offer for HBO? (Note: These costs may differ in your town; likewise, these prices are before the usual federal and state taxes, fees, etc.)
- AT&T U-Verse: $46/month (increases to $76 after six months)
Comes with 130+ channels. HBO is a $16 per month addition to the basic U-Family TV, which costs $30 (for a total of $46). That $30 is raised to $60 after 6 months; the set-top box rental is included in the package price.
- Cablevision /Optimum: $37/month
Comes with 40+ channels. HBO is a $15 add-on to the $15/month Broadcast Basic package, with the box costing an additional $7 per month, for a total of $37.
- Comcast: $50-$60, (increases to $80 after one year)
Comes with 20 channels, including HBO, and Internet service. Introductory fee of $40 or $50, depending on region, increasing to $70 after one year. Box rental is $10 per month.
- Cox: $47.50/month(increases to $52.50 after three months)
Comes with 40+ channels. HBO is $15 per month on top of the Starter TV package, which costs $29, though a promotion lowers HBO by $5 per month for three months; the box rental is $8.50 per month.
- DirecTV: $43/month(increases to $73 after one year)
Comes with 140+ channels. HBO is an additional $18 (though the first three months are free), on top of the Entertainment package, which costs $30 and will increase to $55 per month after one year. First set-top box rental is free.
- Dish Network: $38/month(increases to $48 after one year)
Comes with 55+ channels. HBO is an add-on at $18 (first three months are free) to the "Smart Pack" package, which costs $20, but increases to $30 after the first year. The first box rented has no monthly fee.
- Time Warner Cable: $40.24 (increases to $55.25 after one year)
Comes with 20 channels, including HBO, for $29.99, increasing to $45 after the first year. The box rents for $10.25 per month.
- Verizon FiOS: $31/month(increases to $41 after one year)
Comes with 50+ channels. Verizon FiOS offers HBO at $20, but only $10 for the first year, and the "Local TV" plan costs $13; the box costs $8 per month.
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Despite the hoopla, neither the Time Warner Cable nor the Comcast package is an especially good deal. But there are some pleasant surprises, such as the Cablevision /Optimum and Verizon FiOS packages — assuming that HBO is a top priority for you. Time will tell if other pay TV providers offer even better HBO-oriented budget packages — and whether any of them will be cheap enough to lure people back to the cord.