UPDATED March 10 5:15 AM EST with comment from more companies.
It's finally here. The online, a la carte HBO service everyone's been waiting for — and those with Apple TV, iPhones or iPads are the only ones who can get the $15/month HBO Now.
What if you have a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast or Nexus Player, a game console or a smart TV? Unknown. HBO hasn't announced support for any other devices, nor have any device manufacturers. Tom's Guide inquired with HBO and many of the big streaming-device makers, and none have committed to further plans for the services.
A Roku representative, speaking on behalf of the company but asking to not be named, provided only a philosophical statement. "In general, broad distribution is important for content providers, and especially for a new service where the goal is to gain as many subscribers as possible," the person told Tom's Guide.
Google gave a subtle hint about its future with HBO. "We don't have any specifics to announce around HBO Now," said spokeswoman Veronica Navarrete, "but it is worth keeping in mind that the HBO Go app already works with Chromecast and HBO subscribers can still get content that way." That seems to say: Google is ready when HBO is.
Leaving Roku out — at least of the initial launch — is curious since the streaming box, stick and TV maker is one of the top device makers. Leaving out Android apps is also odd, since the OS runs not only on major mobile devices but also because a version of it, Android TV, runs on Google's Nexus Player and on upcoming smart TVs from Sony and Sharp, among others. Android (as well as iOS) devices can also cast content to the popular, $39 Google Chromecast.
"In its infancy, the streaming media player market was driven by growth from Apple and Roku," reads analyst firm NPD's Jan. 26 Connected Home Forecast. "But over the past year and a half Amazon and Google have made a significant impact."
Apple has an exclusive deal with HBO for three months, after which it's hard to imagine deals not extending to other device makers. In it's press release, HBO stated that, "HBO continues to be in discussions with its existing network of distributors and new digital partners to offer HBO NOW."
But how far will the deals go? Roku is a usual suspect, but what about game consoles and smart TVs, which are now the first and third most popular streaming devices, according to NPD. (Set-top boxes like Apple TV are number 2.) We're waiting to hear back from Amazon about Fire TV, as well as from Sony about the PS4 (and the upcoming PlayStation Vue TV service). Regarding the Xbox, an anonymous, but official Microsoft spokesman write to us, "We’re always in continued discussions with entertainment partners to bring new content to Xbox that will deliver rich, differentiated TV and video experiences, but have nothing to announce at this time." We pinged smart TV makers and got a brief response from Sharp. "We don’t have anything to announce about HBO Now, "said a spokeswoman. Vizio told us essentially the same thing. We're still waiting on Samsung and a few other manufacturers.
If HBO had to pick just one company, it made a good choice with Apple. NPD analyst John Buffone told us in an email that as of its last report on streaming devices at the end of 2014, "Apple TV remained #1 followed by Roku, Chromecast, and Fire TV."
This week's news might have people wondering if they should pay for Amazon Prime Instant Video (one component of a $99/year Amazon Prime subscription). Not only are the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick not included, but with HBO Now, Amazon is no longer the only place to stream HBO's back catalog of shows — episodes roughly three years old or older (not counting Game of Thrones).
Some good news for HBO fans and cord cutters who don't have an Apple device — the Apple TV has been discounted $30 from $99 to $69. That's just in time for fans of Game of Thrones, Veep or other HBO shows to snap one up before HBO Now launches by the second week in August. HBO has said only that it will be online in time for the season debut of Game of Thrones on April 12.