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Cablevision to Offer HBO Now to Broadband-Only Customers

Cablevision Systems is the first pay-TV provider to agree to offer HBO’s standalone Internet-streaming service — without having to also buy a TV package.

Pricing for HBO Now as purchased through Cablevision’s Optimum service was not announced. HBO last week said HBO Now would launch on Apple TV for $14.99 per month (with the first 30 days free), as the exclusive Internet-device partner for three months.

The New York-based MSO is the first cable provider to partner with HBO to offer the new over-the-top service, expected to launch in April in time for the fifth season of “Game of Thrones.”

Whether Cablevision’s opting in to HBO Now leads other operators to follow suit remains in question — as does how the operator’s decision will affect its TV subscriber base. In any case, for HBO, the deal represents a small piece of the overall pie: As of the end of 2014, Cablevision reported 2.68 million video and 2.76 million broadband customers. That’s just a fraction of the 100.8 million U.S. pay-TV homes estimated by Nielsen as of the end of last year.

“As New York’s premier connectivity company, we are enabling Optimum Online customers to enjoy content in any way they choose to receive it,” Cablevision chief operating officer Kristin Dolan said in a statement. “We are well-positioned to support HBO Now and, as technology advances, Cablevision will continue to meet the evolving needs of our customers.”

Like the HBO Go service — which is available to pay-TV subs, including Cablevision’s Optimum TV subscribers who take HBO — HBO Now provides access to every episode of the premium cabler’s original series, films, documentaries, and sports, comedy and music specials, along with movies.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T are among pay-TV ops that have offered HBO as part of a broadband-centric bundle that includes basic broadcast TV service along with HBO. But Cablevision is now the first to strip out any TV requirement at all in order for an Internet subscriber to obtain access to HBO’s full complement of programming — putting HBO on more direct footing vis-a-vis over-the-top competitors like Netflix.

Tom Woodbury, president of global distribution for HBO, said the Time Warner-owned network “couldn’t be more excited that our longtime partner has joined us for the launch of HBO Now. We believe that HBO Now will have great appeal to Cablevision’s broadband customers.”

HBO is targeting what it sees as 10 million-12 million U.S. households that have broadband but not pay-TV service, hoping to capture money it might be leaving on the table. HBO has been one of the key services cable, satellite and telco TV operators have counted on to lure consumers into the subscription-TV bundle. But now the cable programmer, by going direct-to-consumer with Apple, is forcing the hands of pay-TV partners to provide an alternative way of accessing HBO or miss out themselves.

Cablevision said it will provide pricing and other details about how HBO Now will be made available to broadband subs in the coming weeks.

With Optimum TV, Cablevision’s standard pricing for HBO is $14.95 per month (which provides the cabler’s multiplex of 11 HD channels as well as access to HBO Go). The MSO’s customers must pay an additional $4.95 per month for access to HBO On Demand on their cable boxes.

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