Apple just pulled off a huge coup in the battle to redefine what “television” means in the 21st century. As previously rumored, the tech giant formally announced today an exclusive partnership with HBO to bring an online-only subscription streaming service to the Apple TV. It will be available just in time for the new season of Game of Thrones.
HBO Now is a standalone video subscription service that will give Apple TV users comprehensive access to HBO’s library of TV shows and movies for $14.99 per month. And, unlike its counterpart HBO Go, the new app won’t require you to have a cable subscription.
This is something for which fans of HBO’s programming have loudly clamored for some time. That Apple managed to land an exclusive on it is a pretty big deal for Cupertino–and bad news for Roku, Google, Amazon and everybody else in the business of bringing Internet video to your TV set.
We don’t know, of course, how long HBO Now will be exclusively an Apple TV affair. Update: CNN’s Brian Stelter reports that Apple’s exclusivity window will last three months, after which other providers will be able to offer the service.
For years, HBO refused to open up its online content to non-cable subscribers, leaving cord cutters with little choice but to download torrents or swap HBO Go passwords. But a combination of rampant surging demand evidently convinced the cable channel to provide a legal, cable-free way to stream online. Last year, HBO announced that it would finally unbundle its streaming product from the cable requirement this year, although few expected such a quick delivery on the promise until rumors surfaced last week that a deal with Apple was imminent.
Rumors of an Apple-branded television set have been circling since at least 2009, when analyst Gene Munster predicted we’d see one by 2011. Even after anecdotes from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography seemed to confirm the late Apple CEO’s interest in building a TV, the notion has remained little more than a rumor in recent years.
In case HBO Now isn’t enough to reel in new customers, Apple is also slashing the price of its hockey puck-sized streaming box from $99 to $69. That’s still more expensive than Google’s Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, but it does make the Apple TV more palatable to consumers–and in all likelihood, helps Apple clear out its inventory before introducing the Apple TV’s first hardware refresh in two years.