A glaring omission for Amazon’s television set-top has been righted. The HBO Go app finally landed on the $99 Fire TV box on Monday, with the $39 Fire TV stick slated to follow in the spring.
At this point, the mobile app could bring a lot more than just another streaming service. A few other developments are due in the same timeframe: First, the fifth season of Game of Thrones is likely to kick off in April, which sets an unofficial deadline of sorts. HBO announced it would launch its new online-only streaming service for cord-cutters in the spring.
That could mean owners of either device—as well as other HBO Go-friendly gadgets—will be able to stream all the battles, schemes and racy scenes they want, with or without a cable or satellite subscription.
There’s only one thing that could stand in its way.
What Games May Come From Cable Operators
It’s all too easy to imagine cable providers playing their own games, perhaps by urging the premium channel to block TV-connected gadgets. Some have already done so themselves, restricting online streams for existing subscribers.
Comcast, for instance, long barred HBO streaming on the Roku—in fact, it only just reversed itself today. But it still doesn’t authorize the newly available HBO Go app for Amazon Fire TV; neither does Charter Communications.
These are two of the largest cable operators in the United States. Others, including Time Warner, Cox, AT&T, Verizon FiOS, Dish, DirecTV and RCN, among others, have no such obstacles. But don’t forget that Comcast is still angling to buy Time Warner Cable, a merger that would create a new behemoth by putting together the industry’s two largest providers.
Preserving lucrative business relationships is what kept broadcasters and premium channels like HBO abiding by the antiquated channel-packaging designs of cable systems. With HBO’s standalone service still pending, the network might be vulnerable to some strong-arming by its existing cable partners.
That would be a shame, because any kind of shenanigans could undercut a significant development in the TV industry. HBO was the first premium cable channel to announce it would go cable-free. The move spurred others like Showtime and parent company CBS to announce streaming-only plans of their own.
Ultimately, it means that a sea change in the way TV service works could be afoot. Undoubtedly, other broadcasters and networks are eyeing HBO very closely, to see if it can succeed where nearly everyone else feared to tread. If it backs down, it could sink this trend before it really gets started.
Something To Talk About
For Amazon, the only certainty is that HBO Go has finally arrived on its streaming set-top, and that support will extend to its TV stick some time thereafter.
The addition caps off a period of growth in the Fire TV’s inventory of streaming sources. “Since launch we’ve increased the number of services available on Amazon Fire TV by more than 4x,” Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon’s devices division, said in a press statement.
The executive called HBO “the most requested service,” adding that all of the app’s media will be “accessible via voice search on your Fire TV remote,” along with Amazon’s own streaming service, Hulu, Showtime, Vevo and others. (Notably, the Fire TV Stick does not come with a microphone-equipped remote control, though it will work with one if you buy it separately.)
Back in April, the lack of HBO cast a pall over the Fire TV box’s debut—so much so that Amazon raced to wrangle some rather incomplete HBO offerings for Prime members. At the time, the company promised that the full-fledged HBO Go app would eventually come to its TV gadget. Now that the real thing has arrived, it puts the device in some heavy-duty company, among the most popular streaming gadgets on the market.
Other HBO Go-friendly appliances include Apple TV, Chromecast, the Nexus Player, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, PS3 game console, the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One. The app also works on the iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets.
Presumably all of these gadgets could act as pipelines to HBO’s upcoming standalone service—that is, as long as no other games get in the way.
Photo of Amazon Fire TV box courtesy of Amazon; all others by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite