The news: In mid-October, HBO announced it would be launching a standalone, a la carte, OTT-only service in 2015. It said nothing more: no launch date, no name for the service, no hint that it would be either an enhanced version of its HBO Go platform or something completely separate.
But the announcement spurred a huge amount of chatter. This was it, some pundits said: HBO was breaking cable's taboo against a la carte programming. Others said it was a move whose time had come; that consumers were demanding more premium OTT options outside of pay-TV's purview.
While many speculated as to the cost of a potential standalone service--one analyst put it at $15 a month, but called that rate unsustainable--others said that HBO's move was doomed to failure.
In December, we got a glimpse of the machinations going on inside HBO, when Chief Technology Officer Otto Berkes suddenly resigned after HBO higher-ups decided to ditch in-house development of a streaming solution for a third-party streaming provider, MLB Advanced Media.
Memos leaked to the press also revealed that HBO plans to launch its new service in April 2015, to coincide with the season premiere of its blockbuster series Game of Thrones.
The revelations made clear that HBO wants to be the first premium network in the OTT game, and ideally, the best.
Why is it significant? Long locked into pay-TV's model, HBO is showing that premium networks can now step out on their own via OTT delivery--and that has sent MVPDs into panic mode.
Since HBO's announcement, there's been a quickening of steps in the halls of the media and entertainment industry. Sony went ahead with its launch of an OTT, virtual MVPD-type service; Dish Network is hurrying its own offering along, dropping broadcast networks in its haste to get to market; and CBS said it will offer a subscription-based linear OTT service in the near future.
So, HBO's announcement alone may not have seemed like much. But one could look at it as the handkerchief dropped to start a drag race: a small but significant signal to the entertainment industry that it has to evolve, or die.