From Arliss to Sex in the City to the Sopranos, HBO has a history of being experimental with the original programming they green light. In scheduling, they haven’t historically been as daring. Usually their broadcast timetable is relatively traditional and consistent. With their new program “In Treatment” starring Gabriel Byrne they gambled. Unfortunately, the five nights a week experiment hasn’t panned out with audiences. Still, even in failures there’s a perk: the show’s struggle to catch on has opened the door to a rare opportunity for the cable network to explore online streaming of their content.
In the past streaming has been a “do not fly zone” for HBO. It’s the nature of cable TV and the subscription agreements that fund it. Estimates peg HBO revenues at more than $3.5b a year. A significant component of that income comes from affiliate broadcasters that pay HBO a per subscriber fee. That charge, which has been estimated to be about $6 or $7 a head, is offered through contracts that provide certain protective covenants and exclusivity. HBO generally can’t redistribute their content online without wreaking havoc on those agreements.
The struggles In Treatment has had finding audience (despite critical rave reviews) allows HBO to put some episodes online under the guise of marketing. That may draw audience to the channels, but equally important, it could help stimulate demand for the eventual DVD release of the show.
The first three weeks of the show about a psychiatrist named Paul Weston can now be found online at HBO.com. Each week includes 5 episodes. Four are thirty minute “therapy sessions” showing Paul with is patients. The 5th is Paul with a therapist of his own. The first 4 episodes are also available on YouTube.
HBO says the experiment is purely about marketing and not about ratings or the shows initial performance. David Baldwin, EVP of Programming notes that “in the broadcast business you get one premier and that’s it. [HBO] has never been like that, and going forward it’s moving further and further away from the notion that first night numbers mean anything.”
Given the DVD potential that makes sense. Even so, under whatever reason it’s justified,the online streaming of In Treatment is further progress into the digital age.
(HBO does have an online pilot program called HBO on Broadband. More on that limited service, which was launched in January, can be found here)
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