HBO Lands on iTunes (with Variable Pricing)

Dave Zatz —  May 13, 2008 — 8 Comments

HBO content lands on iTunes, with variable pricing (based on unknown criteria):

“We’re thrilled to bring this incredible lineup of programming from HBO to the iTunes Store,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “Sex and the City,” “The Wire” and “Flight of the Conchords” are $1.99 per episode, and “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and “Rome” are priced at $2.99 per episode.

$2.99/episode seems quite high… for older shows (no longer in production). The few times I’ve been motivated to purchase episodes online were series not yet available on DVD, such as Burn Notice. And even though these are purchases, as opposed to rentals, it’s not like you get a ton of replay value – DRM-ed content isn’t easily shared (like a DVD) and you’re not going to stick a 55 minute show into a playlist for repeat enjoyment like a digital song. I suppose the value of an iTunes download is being able to sync content to an iPod or iPhone without ripping, transcoding, etc. Though handheld entertainment has its place, the only folks I see paying for and watching an entire season are those regularly commuting via bus or subway.

Surprisingly, Entourage isn’t initially available for download. Is this a licensing issue and/or is it just a matter of time? (And I doubt shorter shows will be introduced at a new 99 cent tier.) Seems like Apple and HBO would want to eat into the BitTorrent-embracing demographic by getting this series onto iTunes.

Michael Gartenberg believes the introduction of variable pricing opens the door for the return of NBC material to iTunes. And while I’m not entirely opposed to tiered pricing, I expect to see newer or longer content command a premium – rather than HBO’s apparent randomness.

As an aside, I dropped HBO when they couldn’t get Deadwood renewed. Showtime currently provides the best original, commercial-free programming on television now. Incidentally, Showtime also embraced digital downloads early and via multiple destinations/services… which is how I ended up a subscriber.

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8 responses to HBO Lands on iTunes (with Variable Pricing)

  1. “…opens the door for the return of NBC material to iTunes.”

    Ain’t gonna happen! That milk is spoiled, and even if you put the spoiled milk back in the refrigerator, it will never get any better! Disclaimer, I use this same “spoiled milk” analogy for the subject of divorce, too :)

  2. Nice to have the option, but my main source for already aired TV content is Netflix…

  3. I don’t think everyone buying TV from iTunes is doing it for handheld viewing. I think there’s lots of Apple TV or desktop/laptop viewing, too. I do know folks who think it’s a better deal to pay $2/episode for a few shows than to pay $40-80/month for cable.

    The varied pricing is probably more a “What can we get away with?” situation than anything else. Just like black MacBook pricing. If they won’t lose many sales at $2.99 that they’d have had at $1.99, it’s worth it.

  4. For those watching it on the big screen or laptop, buying a DVD set from Amazon or renting via Netflix (as I usually do) makes more sense… especially at this higher rate. (Example: I watched the first season of Dexter on my MacBook while traveling with Netflix discs.) Unless, it’s a spontaneous purchase. Though my spontaneous airport purchases haven’t always finished downloading into iTunes before boarding the plane. And that’s when I often wish I had a Kindle. ;)

  5. Dave, Thats why the night before the flight you just need to load up with tivo desktop…it has saved me from making that airport impulse purchase many times, well now that I think about it my slingbox has helped too.

    I dont like the idea of paying 2.99 for one episode of a show. I think 1.99 is my limit and even then Its pushing it. I have basically stopped doing it. I bought VideoReDo TVSuite, and i now just auto transfer shows in tivo desktop and burn my own dvd’s faster then shows are posted to itunes with no commercals.

  6. Not just spontaneity; people want to watch this year’s shows this year. :-) Buying a season means last night’s show lands in iTunes today. That’s a nice feature.

  7. Fine, whatever. I cancelled HBO since there’s nothing on there I really want to watch anymore. If they offer Entourage on iTunes whenever it comes on again, that’ll keep me from renewing. Agree entirely on Showtime–their lineup is much better. All of these movie channels are doomed though as on-demand options bloom. They’re just too expensive for the occasional movie…

  8. Michele Pineda June 14, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    While I have iTunes myself, the idea of purchasing individual shows doesn’t appeal to me at all. Besides the music downloads (individual songs for me, as I hate buying complete albums-like being able to pick & choose my faves) I do have a few music videos, but really don’t find myself watching them all that much. For videos and series I want to watch, I find Netflix has been the best option for me.

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