updated 08:43 pm EST, Thu January 31, 2013
Move gives HBO users more reason to go with set-top box
Bloomberg is reporting that Apple and HBO are in talks to bring HBO Go, the company's app- and web-based Video On Demand (VOD) service, to the Apple TV. Existing HBO subscribers would then be able to access the HBO catalog of more than 600 hours of material on the Apple TV device without having to use AirPlay to "stream" it from their iPad or iPhone as is currently required. It is possible that HBO may even allow non-subscribers some form of limited "sample" access to the service, akin to how the BBC's Global iPlayer works.
The agreement is not a done deal, and may only be relevant to those who already subscribe to HBO through their cable or satellite provider -- but the addition of such a service or similar services may give Apple another edge to boost sales of the product it describes as "a hobby." Sales of the unit are growing steadily, with Apple having sold more than two million of the units during the holiday quarter alone, adding to the almost eight million units of the current "black box" style unit already sold.
The Apple TV as it exists now is a streaming "bridge" device that offers a link to online services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus as well as allowing users to leverage AirPlay and wirelessly stream video, audio and photos to HDTV units from iOS devices as well as Mac and PC computers running iTunes. With alterations, the device has been shown to be able to handle other media formats and even run some iOS apps, though both purposes require "jailbreaking" the device and adding third-party paid software to make that possible.
The current version of the Apple TV is a small, rounded black box that sells for $99 and has no internal storage to speak of. In addition to its streaming capabilities, it offers services such as movie trailers, iTunes rental of movies and TV shows, a portal for Netflix, Wall Street Journal business video reports, Major League Baseball (US only), and other features.
Both former CEO Steve Jobs and current chief Tim Cook have professed a strong fondness for the product and have answered similarly when asked about the future of the Apple TV set-top box and whether it could lead to a full-blown, integrated sort of HDTV product. While Cook in particular has repeatedly said that television is "an area of intense interest to us" and criticized the current cable-based channel system, the company has never explicitly acknowledged that it was working on any other TV-related hardware.
HBO, one of the original pay-TV channels originally emphasizing Hollywood movies, now achieves its largest audience by producing and distributing original programming alongside its diet of top feature films. The company has produced a string of high-budget, high-quality, uncensored shows that have found sizeable audiences in a way that relatively few "network" offerings have been able to duplicate. Among the shows available through HBO Go are Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Six Feet Under, Carnivalé, Rome, Oz, True Blood, The Newsroom, Extras, Flight of the Conchords, The Sopranos and more.
If negotiations are successful, the service could be added to Apple TV at any time through a software update, though reports have it starting later this year if the deal goes through. A revision to the current Apple TV was inadvertently revealed by an FCC document and confirmed by Apple, though exactly what the changes will bring about hasn't been made clear. Apple refers to the revision as "minor."