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Apple's Partnership With HBO May Redefine Cable TV


Next month, HBO will debut a new standalone video streaming service called HBO Now. For the first time, viewers can see new episodes of hit HBO shows like "Game Of Thrones," "Girls," or "Veep" without paying for a cable subscription. HBO announced the service as a partnership with Apple yesterday. And here to discuss how it might redefine cable TV is NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, good morning.


WERTHEIMER: Now that HBO has showed off its streaming service, what's it look like?

DEGGANS: Well, now we know the name of the service, which is HBO Now. And we know the price, which is $14.99 a month. The service starts in early April as this unique partnership between Apple and HBO. Now, the only way viewers can sign up for the service, at least at first, is to register through an app provided by Apple on an iPhone, an iPad, Apple TV or a compatible Apple device. And once registered, customers can access HBO programming on Apple devices and even on PCs. HBO's exclusive deal with Apple lasts about three months. And while he didn't reveal a definite start date, HBO's CEO says he expects the service to debut before the new season of "Game Of Thrones" starts, which is on April 12.

WERTHEIMER: So a marriage between these two important media companies, but why HBO and Apple?

DEGGANS: Well, until now, HBO has counted on cable companies to sell HBO subscriptions, so they don't have a lot of experience or structure to deal with customers directly. Now, Apple's already got this customer base of people who are used to buying and consuming TV products on its devices, and it's this cool player in the tech world. So by having a company like Apple sell its service, HBO doesn't have to rely on cable companies, which might see the new streaming service as competition and not work all that hard at selling subscriptions.

WERTHEIMER: You said that this is a three-month agreement? So is this just temporary?

DEGGANS: Well, what they'll probably do is open up the service to other companies, but Apple has exclusive rights to sell access to HBO Now for three months.

WERTHEIMER: Now, presumably this is great news for cord-cutters who want to avoid big cable bills by purchasing HBO directly, maybe also for folks who think they're paying for hundreds of channels of not much.

DEGGANS: Yeah, well, HBO executives are saying the service is intended to reach these people who pay for broadband Internet service, but they don't subscribe to cable TV. That's estimated at about 10 million people. But that sounds a little like PR to me. I think cable customers have complained for years about rising costs and the lack of an a la carte system where they can choose smaller bundles of channels that they watch regularly for a lower price. And it just proves what I've always said about today's Internet-driven media, if you don't figure out a way to give customers what they want, somebody else will.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans, thank you very much.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.