The long-awaited stand-alone version of HBO Go finally has a name, a launch date, and a price: It’s called HBO Now, it’ll cost $14.99 per month, and you’ll be able to subscribe starting next month, just in time for the return of Game of Thrones. And at least initially, you’ll have to go through House Cupertino — Apple — to get the so-called “over the top” (i.e., cable-free) version of the streaming service. Apple has struck a deal to be the exclusive launch partner for HBO Now, allowing iTunes and Apple TV users to subscribe directly through its ecosystem, either through iOS or Windows devices. (And yes, there’ll be a one-month free trial period, just as Netflix and Amazon offer.) “With this new partnership … we have access to millions of Apple customers who are used to getting their favorite apps immediately,” HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler said in a press release announcing the deal, which was revealed Monday morning via the computer giant’s Apple Watch media event. Viewers who’d rather not deal with Apple to get their HBO are unlikely to be shut out forever: HBO said it is in “discussions with its existing network of distributors and new digital partners to offer HBO Now,” which means broadband providers and other digital platforms will likely soon offer the service as well.
While HBO said late last year that it would finally offer a direct-to-consumer way to subscribe to its programming, it hadn’t offered details of its plans until today. Much of what was announced today is what had been expected. As with HBO Go, HBO Now will offer all of HBO’s current programs on an on-demand basis, and a rich selection of the network’s library of past series and movies. (In other words, HBO Now won’t be HBO Lite.) HBO insiders had suggested their OTT service would be priced competitively with what HBO costs through cable companies, and that turned out to be mostly true — but on the high end of those expectations. While $15 per month is in line with the average price of an HBO cable subscription, many companies offer deep discounts on HBO (and other premium services) that can bring the cost down to around $10 a month (though consumers have to subscribe to other services to get that cheaper price). HBO Now — at about $180 per year — will also be considerably more expensive than its chief streaming rivals. Amazon Prime is available for $99 per year (and includes free shipping), while Netflix runs about $108 per year for new subscribers.