How Much Is HBO Worth?

Dave Zatz —  February 3, 2012

Ben Drawbaugh, of Engadget HD, has decided HBO just isn’t worth $17/month. Ben’s something of a HD snob, which I characterize in the nicest way possible, and finds HBO “unwatchable” — preferring instead to rent or purchase higher quality Blu-ray discs. And has therefore cancelled his subscription.

By comparison, I’m much more tolerant of perhaps somewhat inferior audio/visual presentation… given sufficiently compelling content along with viewing flexibility. So I find HBO to be one of the best values in home entertainment, primarily due to HBO GO – which provides access to all of HBO’s original programming, think Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, along with a small rotating selection of mainstream movies. HBO GO was originally streamed to mobile devices like the iPad or iPhone, but has branched out into television-connected devices making the service infinitely more compelling. First up was the Roku, with additional devices and improved quality right around the corner. And if you can’t wait, hack together your own mobile-to-hdtv solution. Although, even someone with my lower standards doesn’t find that sort of presentation watchable.

Unfortunately, HBO is less compelling for Comcast and DirecTV customers given their decision to prohibit HBO GO. Related, HBO GO is only available to cable or satellite TV customers — cord cutters need not apply. On one hand, HBO is about twice the cost of Netflix or Hulu streaming. But I’d argue we’re provided higher quality (“premium”) content available both on TV and online. On the other, Ben argues that for a dollar more his Netflix subscription includes both physical Blu-ray rentals plus online streaming.

So what’s HBO worth to you?

36 responses to How Much Is HBO Worth?

  1. Fortunately, services like Hulu, Netflix, and HBO don’t require long term commitments. I currently rotate in an out as the their libraries, our interest and free time change. For example, I recently cancelled HBO and Hulu, but had turned Netflix back on.

  2. Agreed. While HBO has stated they will ultimately move to 1080P, the quality of their 720P stream is pretty good at 3.5 MBps. Other services stream 720P at 2.5 MBps (and Dolby Digital Plus is coming in the near future).

    Also, when you look at the cost of some of the HBO content like Game of Thrones ($55 for a blu-ray!), it makes sense to just turn it on for a month or two and watch the original content you want.

  3. For me HBO or even most movie channels have never been worth it. The only time I have ever kept a movie channel for a regular amount of time was if it was included in my bundle or if it was free as part of a 90 day promotion. I used to be a big movie watcher so by the time movies hit any of the movie channels, I had already seen them. I am also not someone who really likes to rewatch movies.

    These days we skip the theater and just wait for Netflix and still won’t pay for HBO. For me to pay for HBO they would have to run the movies in the OAR. I have found it too distracting when I have tried to watch a movie especially one I had seen with a friend when we did have HBO due to the cropping. Even then though they would need to drop the price since $17.99 is much more than I would pay for the occasional viewing since these days we watch more TV than movies.

    I must say I also was never someone who was pulled in by HBO’s original programming. Other than True Blood and Entourage, I think I have skipped every original HBO series. One of these days I will probably at least give them a try since I think someone in my family has some on DVD.

  4. We get HBO as part of our Comcast bundle, but even at the normal rate of $17 I’m in. HBO GO is real nice on the TV. I get it through my Google TV since I don’t own a Roku, but since Comcast blocks the Roku it doesn’t really matter.

    I’m waiting for Showtime to expand their Showtime Anytime service to other devices.

  5. The answer to your question is: not as much as they think they are.

  6. Interesting timing: after not having HBO for the last 8 years, I added it to our FiOS TV package just last night. The reason? HBO Go. Plus I wanted to see some of the HBO series’ and while many are on iTunes, it either wasn’t cost effective or Apple wasn’t delivering the content for a few months yet.

    This is the first time I can remember a mobile offering driving my cable programming choices.

  7. “Also, when you look at the cost of some of the HBO content like Game of Thrones ($55 for a blu-ray!)…”

    Well, only $45, actually. But the bigger problem is that you have to wait a year, and the smaller problem is that you then you have to juggle 5 discs just to power through a season.

    If you can locally cache, as I can with FiOS -> TiVo -> KTTMG, if you think HBO original programming is the best game in town, and if you find it more important than Dave does to have high PQ video for material that demands high PQ, then a constant monthly drip of the HBO multicast is simply the best bargain in entertainment.

  8. They’re not worth it. Back when we had cable, and subscribed to the premiums (HBO and SHO), we would only watch a few select programs. And those only run 13 new episodes a year. We rarely is ever watched movies or specials. Now I just watch those shows online if available. If not (Boardwalk Empire for example), I sill manage to survive.
    I’m still optomistic that cable as we know it will be dead in the next 10 years thanks to internet developments. And we’ll be able to subrscibe to channels a la carte through our PS3 or Roku like I can with MLB Net. Someday.

  9. Unfortunately, next to ESPN HBO IS the strongest cable franchise by a country mile. They will and can continue to raise pricing till the point that subs/revenues go down.

  10. Well, only $45, actually.

    $44.99, actually.

  11. HBO would be worth it to me if I watched more of its programming. I am not nearly dedicated enough to power through entire seasons to make the $17/mo worth it.

    Espesically not during basketball season.

    I think i may revisit this in the summar, when the networks are in btw seasons and there aren’t any sports on that I watch. Is the entire The Wire library availble on HBO GO?

  12. *especially

  13. I’m thinking that was one of those posts written more for the controversy it will generate than the truth behind it.

    HBO consistently has some of the best programming out there, and ditto to Chuckie’s point about waiting on the DVDs.

    @xdreamwalker – Showtime is pretty foolish if they don’t have something similar to HBO GO in the works. We get spoiled so easily – I was really annoyed to have to catch up on Homeland on the actual TV set instead of being able to watch some episodes on the iPad in bed.

  14. ^^the Engadget post, not Zatz’s

  15. HBO is worth nothing to me. Little new content, ver high cost, no VOD. Canceled 3 years ago. Not missing it.

  16. Alan, Ben wrote the post on his personal blog and I’m confident it represents how it feels and isn’t some sort of link bait.

    By the by, I was somewhat disappointed by Homeland’s finale. But I’m afraid to discuss why for folks who haven’t yet seen it.

  17. “Well, only $45, actually. But the bigger problem is that you have to wait a year, and the smaller problem is that you then you have to juggle 5 discs just to power through a season.”

    Thanks Chucky; didn’t realize Amazon dropped the price. Prices are subject to change :-) Still think it’s a better value to subscribe for a couple of months as you get access to the other programming.

  18. “Unfortunately, next to ESPN HBO IS the strongest cable franchise by a country mile. They will and can continue to raise pricing till the point that subs/revenues go down.”

    Pricing power is a nice thing to have. I’m not kidding when I say I think they’re a bargain at their current price point.

    (And unlike ESPN, the cost of HBO is one that consumers are voluntarily paying…)

  19. I remember about 12 years ago reading how men were treating themselves to everything/premium cable (all channels). It’s pretty interesting how it’s all changed. HBO/Cinemax/Stars/Shotime/Movie Channel don’t even register on my radar any longer.

    I’m not a huge movie watcher so that’s part of it. I used to subscribe to them for watching that odd movie. Now I just use Amazon or iTunes and stream/download it on demand. It’s more cost effective that way. I may watch a new movie each weekend for a month and then not see a new movie for 6-12 months after that.

    The other thing with all this: Hollywood, for the most part, has given up on anything new and original. Now it’s your romantic comedy, super hero movie, animated movie, or action movie. It’s all cans on a shelf for them.

  20. If HBO wasn’t so compressed over TWC it might be worth watching. Now they aren’t as good as an HD Netflix stream. It’s probably not their fault that TW compresses it so much, but I’d rather wait for the BD of the hbo shows.

    It’d be really funny if the picture quality was better over GO than what the cable company provides.

  21. Cox Cable recently gave me HBO free for a year. I think I’ve turned to it maybe 2 or 3 times and have yet to watch a full program on it. I’ll probably watch the 2nd season of Game of Thrones whenever that comes around, but no way I’m going to keep it once the free year is up. It just isn’t worth the money.

  22. Agree with Dave. At $17 its worth it when I have time to watch their shows or they have something compelling on, but its too much to just keep it all year when I often don’t get around to watching it, or all of their original series are on hiatus.

    I had just recently cancelled it due to Comcast’s not supporting HBO Go on the Roku. But then Comcast screwed up my Cable Card install on a new Elite (very nice btw with the new HD interface I have to say) and gave me 6 months free HBO. The nice thing about a 2TB hard drive is I can just sock away a lot of movies that I might get around to watching some day, or not.

    Currently I wouldn’t subscribe since I’m pretty busy and there’s enough network TV to keep me going. Plus Showtime has more shows I’m interested in these days (you really should be watching Shameless, its truly awesome) and paying for two of these things at once is just silly.

    Like others I used to subscribe to everything out there, but there’s so much competition for our entertainment dollar these days. I like to go to movies in the theater, I can easily watch most new movies for a few bucks on my Apple TV. I spend a lot more time on the internet than in the past. Etc.

    After the 6 month thing lapses, I’ll probably turn HBO on again in the summer.

  23. I have HBO included in my Comcast bundle. However, if I didn’t have it, standalone it is 19.99 in my area. Same with SHO and Starz. I used to really look forward to HBO’s Saturday 8pm new movie but for the last few years they have been mostly horrible. I would definitely not be subscribed if it wasn’t in my bundle. Showtime, with Dexter and Homeland is worth paying for those 3 months they are new.

  24. I think HBO is using HBO Go as a bargaining chip. They have the app running on iOS, Android, and Roku. Imagine if they port it to all tablets, all smart TVs, maybe even make an app for TiVo, BD players, etc… Basically imagine a world where it’s as prolific as Netflix currently is. At that point, HBO can say this to cable/sat companies: “Pay us more, or we’ll expand access to HBO Go to people without cable subscriptions”.

    This protects their profits because they can milk the cable/sat companies as long as possible. And at point where cable/sat companies balk at that, they expand the service to everyone who wants the app.

    Even better, right now you can buy episodes of HBO shows on Amazon. HBO could easily yank those from Amazon, and sell them exclusively via their HBO Go app. Those episodes will be yours to keep no matter what platform, and they can wrap it around any DRM they want since experience will always be in HBO Go. HBO keeps ALL profits from their media sales and stays relevant for decades to come.

  25. @Dave – apologies, that was a cheap shot at Ben and re-reading the post, I can see you are correct

    @Martin – Of course. But you can likely take out the “squeezing the cable/sat companies” part: they’ll sell internet-only subscriptions and tell the pay TV providers to lump it if they don’t like it.

  26. So what stops the cord-cutters like me from watching HBO Go on a friend’s account?

  27. HBO is really not a good value if you’re in it only for the movies – you can get a better selection & better quality from Netflix by mail.

    But factor in the original series and that’s when I value it most. During the seasons of Game of Thrones and many other series I subscribe – and then cancel during downtimes. HBO and the other premiums will eventually become the only place to find quality TV series as the OTA networks continue their decline into the realityTV junkyard. Sports is the only quality you’ll find on the non-pay channels and quality, original series will be the main reason to go with the pay channels.

  28. Just turned it off once I finally saw the boardwalk finale. I had a promo, and went a couple months over.

    Still have Sho/Starz on promo. Kind of prefer their series anyways.

  29. BradB, yeah there seems to generally be fewer compelling mainstream movies these days. We need folks like Chucky to point us to the more obscure good stuff.

    Bill, I don’t think HBO GO requires anything more than a username and password – so I imagine some folks share accounts. But that’s not much different than Netflix I’d suspect.

    AnotherDave, yeah I’ve been digging Showtime’s original programming in recent years and they’re slowly starting to rollout Showtime Anytime – which is essentially a HBO GO clone. I’d heard they were originally planning more of a true over-the-top service but I guess they’re starting more conservatively (and I couldn’t get them to comment on the record about the change up and had come my way via non-official channels).

  30. “We need folks like Chucky to point us to the more obscure good stuff.”

    In the aftermath of the stock bubble bursting a decade ago, the US indie cinema market and the US mid-range cinema markets both essentially died at the same time. Which means that Hollywood theatrical releases pretty much went out of the business of ‘adult entertainment’.

    A huge amount of the talent exodus ended up at HBO Original Programming, which is why I’m a big fan of HBO. The good stuff stopped being produced as theatrical features, and is now mutated into “it’s not teevee, it’s hbo.”

    As far as good obscure recent theatrical features, I liked Melancholia and A Dangerous Method a lot, with Bellflower, Take Shelter, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Carnage, and Jane Eyre all being good fun. Here’s a decent best of 2011 list from Glenn Kenney, though he shamefully leaves off Melancholia.

    But again, much like the Carlos miniseries was one of the best things of 2010, the Mildred Pierce miniseries was one of the best things of 2011. And who’s going to give Todd Haynes that kind of canvas and budget to work on these days? It’s not going to be theatrical, it’s going to be HBO.


    “HBO is really not a good value if you’re in it only for the movies – you can get a better selection & better quality from Netflix by mail.”

    You can certainly get better selection and quality via Kwickghstir. It’s just kinda expensive. A 4-out Blu-Ray plan is going to run you, what, $25 per month without streaming? And that’s pretty much the bare minimum plan you want if you’re going to cancel all your premium-movie channels. I’d want even more than 4.

    I like having the multicast premium-movie channels for more mainstream stuff saved to the DVR, which I’m willing to watch cropped 16:9, and I use Amazon -> TiVo VOD for more obscure stuff with better-than-streaming PQ. If you locally cache, the premium-movie channels are actually pretty good value just for the movies.

  31. I am anxiously awaiting the Xbox HBO Go app. I like HBO Go’s selection but don’t have a PC hooked to TV usually since I use Xbox as Extenders to TV via WMC + CC. I know the HBO Go app won’t have the quality of FIOS MPEG-2 or Blu-Ray but I am hoping it is better than standard stream. I also agree with the storing content. Since FIOS has no encryption I am just loading up on some shows on my 4TB of space and then marathon through them at times.

  32. Oh and I hope as you said Showtime Anytime shows up sooner than later as another option. It seems almost as good as HBO Go but is still mostly PC based as well.

  33. Jon the Heretic February 5, 2012 at 9:02 am

    If you start off with different assumptions you are going to end up with different conclusions every time. So I think all of you are right — for you. Love hearing different perspectives.

    I personally couldn’t justify HBO right now at this price point, but that doesn’t detract from HBO having some of the best, absolutely top notch programming out there. These days I get all of my HBO via Netflix one at a time Blu Ray, and given the relatively few movies I want to even bother with, HBO with some BBC fare makes Netflix continue to work for me — that is until Netflix announces they will refuse to carry any HBO because of their latest fiasco resulting in the loss of a disc discount (poor babies — they have to pay for the content they redistribute). If Netflix stops buying the HBO discs, they simply won’t have enough content left to keep me. I only do streaming when my disc queue is basically empty, letting my kids catch up on the same crap they’ve already seen for a month or two; otherwise, I don’t find it compelling at all.

    I do receive Showtime, which in recent years I believe to have superb original programming, too, and a better price point on my cable provider. I am more invested in the characters on Shoshows than HBOshows — love Shameless, Dexter, Nurse Jackie, Borgias, Weeds — and am willing to wait for the latest Tru Blood (did see Game of Thrones early, but I’ve read all 80,000 pages of the book series, so I decided waiting yet more was not an option). HBO is exquisite stuff — from Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers, the gritty and fulfulling The Wire — but I can’t afford 2 premium channels unless my kids agree which one gets to eat, and they are so selfish the little brutes.

    I would like to also reveal why cord cutting is not a choice I will take until my executive leadership decides that my salary is best added to their bonus than in feedling my family — excellent non premium cable content such as Justified on FX and AMC (Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Mad Men). I can barely stand most normal Network TV fare now — HBO, SHO, AMC, and FX have raised the standard so much that that is most of what we watch (ok, love Supernatural on CW, too), and we just TiVo up entire seasons (I do love my 2TB upgrade).

    Did I mention books from my local library? I can wait for content, because there is so much available in so many forms. That is the correct answer for me — but dead wrong for many of you.

  34. “I can’t afford 2 premium channels unless my kids agree which one gets to eat, and they are so selfish the little brutes.”

    Make a game of it. Tell the kids that they’re playing “Holiday In North Korea”. Two bowls of rice per day for both of them to share, and if they don’t share the food perfectly equally, the one who eats more has to sleep outside in the cold.

    Not only will you be able to afford more premium content, but your kids will be raised learning how to share, as well as worshiping you as Dear Leader…

  35. No Value at any price.

    There is a fundemental disconnect. We had HBOgo, it provides the same 15 movies they play on HBO in non-stop rotation. If you miss what they’re showing at 4, no worries, it will be back again at 8. HBO on cable is worthless for that reason, it’s the same reason it’s worthless on HBOgo, No selection. To compare Hulu or Netflix to HBOgo at any price point except free is ridiulous. HBOgo is free to cable subs because NO ONE will pay for it, that’s the real reason it’s not for Cord Cutters. Set the corporate propaganda asside.

    Would you pay $18 a month to stream the same movies that are in rotation on your Cable based HBO? Of course not.. Would you pay $18 a month for episodes of a show you like on HBO.. That’s $210+ per year to watch Enterouge, or True Blood or BWE.

    Would it surprise you to know you can buy the entire season in advance for $10-15 as they play. So even if you watched 4 programs on HBO you wouldn’t spend more than 60$ this year doing it.

    How about the movies you watch on HBO.. can’t live without those? They’re ALL online.. they should be, the newest thing in rotation is two years old on Netflix, Amazon or any number of 10 other sources.

    I beg of you.. Educate yourselves.. You cannot make an educated decision if you don’t know what your talking about.

  36. “I can’t afford 2 premium channels”

    Beyond original programming, HBO has superior value in movies simply by not ‘badging’ their movies with the company logo.

    HBO has pricing power in part cuz of little things like that. Badged movies kinda piss off folks who love movies.