HBO launches streaming Web video service

HBO has finally started streaming movies and television shows online, including popular series such as The Sopranos and The Wire.

Unfortunately, the service, dubbed HBO Go, won’t be available to everyone. As part of the cable industry’s TV Everywhere strategy, only cable subscribers will be able to watch the shows online, so don’t get any ideas about adding HBO Go to your list of cable alternatives. Right now, it’s only available to Verizon FIOS subscribers, with wider availability on the way.

It gets worse. TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld is a FIOS subscriber, and therefore got to try the service today. He says that if it wasn’t already offered for free, he wouldn’t pay for it due to the lack of available content. Not a single episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm can be watched online, and Schonfeld said the movie selection is worse than Netflix’s library of instant streaming films. He did praise the quality of HBO Go’s streaming and the ease of navigation on the site.

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Still, HBO Go’s meager online catalog underscores a bigger problem with TV Everywhere: Content producers, such as television networks and movie studios, are only embracing it half-heartedly. They want to make some effort to be online, but they’re afraid that offering the bulk of their programming will deter people from watching on television, where the real money is made from commercials. HBO doesn’t have quite that problem, because its channel is commercial-free, but I suspect the network is afraid of losing DVD sales if cable subscribers can get on-demand access to every show.

I’m not a cable subscriber, so it’s all the same to me, but I’m still hoping that some day HBO will offer a standalone version of its content online. Its shows are worth paying for, more so than what you get with basic cable. Therein lies the problem.