HBO's deal with Apple to include its programs in the iTunes store has received widespread coverage in the last couple of days, particularly because it includes differentiated pricing for the first time.
Indeed, while it's a big story that Apple's Steve Jobs has finally consented to deviate from his "one price for all" approach - which NBC couldn't attain last fall - there is another angle on this announcement: the possibility that, at long last, HBO has woken up to broadband video's potential.
HBO's absence from the broadband scene has been noticeable. As the most profitable and acclaimed TV network, I've long thought that HBO had significant upside in pursuing broadband initiatives. Instead it has badly lagged Showtime and Starz, its two principal rivals in the premium network space, as well as other networks.
Showtime in particular has been quite innovative in both creating broadband-only extras for its programs, plus enticing user-involvement opportunities. For its part, Starz has been aggressive in pursuing Vongo, its broadband-subscription service, which continues to make inroads with numerous device partnerships.
Yet HBO has seemed contentedly disinterested in broadband. Between its hefty subscription fees and healthy DVD business, broadband has likely been seen as just a gnat buzzing about. HBO's lack of broadband interest is evident on its web site which has just a smattering of video clips and highlights, and it is fairly static, with little-to-nothing enticing for the broadband user.
In reality, broadband could have likely been adding real value to HBO's business. With the proper incentives, HBO's creative production partners could have easily come up with broadband extras that would have appealed to the diehard fans of its programs. In addition to their sheer programming value, these would have helped drive more fan loyalty and stickiness between seasons. That would help address HBO's churn rate during its off-season periods.
While HBO's iTunes relationship is a step forward, it's a small one. Contrast its approach to soon-to-be-corporate-sibling Bebo's programming model (which I wrote about yesterday), with its intense focus on community engagement and the different philosophies are evident. Of course HBO is a programming powerhouse and there's no arguing with its success. But for it to fully embrace broadband's opportunities, it would benefit from looking at what Bebo and others are currently doing.