The a la carte TV movement got a bit of a boost today. Bloomberg is reporting that Time Warner Cable will offer consumers a slimmed down TV bundle that includes the web-only HBO Go, broadband internet, and a few other channels for 50 bucks a month.
It's not exactly the standalone HBO Go option fans have been hoping for, and it is technically still a cable package. But it's also a hell of a lot cheaper than your average cable subscription, especially once you add in the extra fee for HBO's top-notch programming.
A premium cable package will run you over $100/month, which is presumably why some 10 million broadband internet customers opt to pass up a cable subscription altogether, and several million more don’t shell out extra to watch Game of Thrones and Veep each Sunday.
Naturally, these are the people Time Warner is hoping to lure with the compromise cable "lite" package. It's not an original idea; Comcast announced a similar plan ("Internet Plus") last year, which is actually still available to some consumers if you bother ask for it (provided you're willing to brave a phone call to Comcast's customer service folks).
The telecom giant, however, stopped pushing that slimmed down deal, suggesting it didn't lure enough new subscribers to be worth the risk that current subscribers would cancel their more expensive cable package.
Striking that balance—attracting new customers without losing current ones, as well as leveraging its popular HBO network as a way to grow and expand business without caving to a buyout—is the business incentive behind TWC’s reported plan. But what does it mean for consumers?
Possibly nothing; it's just the latest attempt to cash in on a high-demand product without toppling big cable's extremely lucrative house of cards. This could be a bait-and-switch—sign up for the stripped down package, then be forced to either upgrade or cancel again if Time Warner decides to stop offering it. On the other hand, there's a bit of consumers versus big telecom narrative here that makes any movement toward a la carte television exciting.
And of course, as a la carte goes, HBO is the prime offering on the menu. You may remember in 2012 viewers launched a campaign literally asking HBO to "Take My Money," for a legal standalone web channel.
And so many people are sharing logins to sub-legally watch the network online without a cable subscription that it's crashed the site on more than one occasion during particularly anticipated shows.
HBO CEO Richard Plepler, for his part, has said before he'd consider a web-only version if the numbers added up, and has experimented with that model in Scandinavian and Nordic countries and found it did indeed boost subscriptions.
As Plepler said, "It's a sin to leave money on the table." But, at the end of the day, it's the cable giants holding the cards here.