With its internet-based HBO Max service, HBO is now fully engaged in the streaming wars competing for subscribers against formidable rivals: Apple TV+, Paramount+, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix. In the olden days, HBO had only one competitor Showtime. The fight is mostly on which would get the exclusive rights to air the new films. A new kind of completion emerged in the 1980s. VHS and VCRs cassette rentals let people watch movies at home, uncensored and uncut, without subscribing to Showtime or HBO. This eliminated pay TV’s most significant selling point. HBO had to find out new ways to increase subscribers, and this is when it began to create more original TV programming.
But the biggest question was what kind of shows HBO would make? It fell back on its central purpose: to serve as an alternative. According to Bill Mesce, author of Inside of the Rise HBO, “The whole idea is to do something that the networks are not doing. You’re more or less a counterpuncher.”
At 1st HBO put nudity in the sitcom. In 1984, a show called 1st & Ten debuted on HBO. It was about a woman who owns a football team. But as time passed, it discovered that it could pair profanity and nudity with quality, and the result was something that HBO never had and something that people will be willing to pay for. Former HBO exec Carolyn Strauss recalls, “As our programming grew more successful and we realized that this was an area that we could compete in, we started to inch in a different direction.”
In the early 1990s, after winning critical acclaim for The Larry Sanders Show, a show that was a lacerating satire about television. The network became HBO with two shows it launched in the late ’90s. 1st in 1998, Sex and the City came, and then in 1999, The Sopranos. After that, hits kept coming, and some of the hits were Six Feet Under, The Wire, Game of Thrones.
In 2010, HBO Go, the 1st ever internet app, was launched. And a while before, HBO had been a pioneer in satellite broadcasting and pay-TV, now stepping into something different. The completion is tough, but the uncertainty within HBO’s ownership structure isn’t making life any easier. Now in 2020, HBO Max (internet streaming service) was launched. A lot of money is needed to create content to stream, which people will want to see, and now the current owner of the network, AT&T, is facing some costly infrastructure investments.