HBO is coming. Today Apple and HBO announced a partnership making Apple the exclusive partner for the long-anticipated HBO standalone streaming service, HBO Now in early April. Perhaps not so happily anticipated — a hefty monthly fee of $14.99. Still, it's cheaper than cable. The Apple TV set-top box is now cheaper, too. Apple has dropped the price from $99 to $69. HBO Now will also be available on iPhones and iPads.
"All you need to get HBO Now is a broadband connection and an Apple TV device," said HBO's CEO Richard Plepler. He didn't give a specific date for the service to launch, but did say it will be online "in time for the April 12 premier of Game of Thrones." You can get the first four weekly episodes for free, as well: HBO is providing the first month of HBO Now for free.
With HBO Now finally here, well see how many of the fans who have said they would gladly pay for HBO actually do. At $15, it's $6 per month more expensive than Netflix, the juggernaut of online streaming. And it's close to the base package of the new Sling TV service, which now provides 17 channels, including top ones including AMC an ESPN.
Will people go for the high-cost service? HBO and Apple specified only a monthly fee. There was no mention of an annual or multi-month commitment. Perhaps subscriptions will become available for Game of Thrones, Veep, Girls or whatever show particular fans feel they have to see. That's more appealing than waiting a year for the previous season Blu-rays or downloads to come out. If you don't need to see the latest HBO shows and want to catch up on oldies but goodies like The Wire or Six Feed Under, you an opt for Amazon Prime Instant Video ($99 per year) instead to watch shows from about three years ago or later.
Is the price drop on Apple TV really a bargain? Apple hasn't updated the device; perhaps it's more a closeout sale — maybe to make way for a replacement? Even so, it's still more expensive than HDMI dongles such as the $50 Roku Streaming Stick and the $39 Amazon Fire TV Stick. Of course, they don't have HBO Now, at least not yet.