Comcast is testing an offer aimed at fans of "Game of Thrones" and other HBO fare who don't want to pay for a package of other cable channels like ESPN, Fox News or TNT.
The nation's No. 1 cable operator confirmed that it has launched a trial offer of "Internet Plus," which includes broadcast TV, video-on-demand, HBO (and HBO Go) and 20- or 25-Mbps broadband. Subscribers also get access to Streampix, Comcast's Netflix-style multiscreen VOD service.
It's the first time a pay-TV distributor is marketing HBO as a standalone service, divorced from other cabler programming packages. Also notable is that the Internet Plus promo leads with broadband as the primary service, and touts any-screen access to TV shows -- a pitch that appears to be aimed at preventing broadband-only subs from cutting the TV cord.
Comcast insiders insist the marketing offer, which expires next Jan. 31 in some markets and July 31 in others, is just a trial and doesn't presage a move toward pure a la carte. Indeed, part of the strategy is aimed at upgrading subscribers to cable TV tiers down the line.
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said at an investment conference last month that the company was open to the idea of packaging HBO with a broadband offering from cable and telco operators -- as long as they also offer pay TV to consumers.
Comcast's Internet Plus service is not a broadband-only streaming video play: Subs must have a Comcast set-top. Meanwhile, the MSO is prohibited under federal regulations from offering cable channels like HBO without also including broadcast nets, referred to as "B1" in industry parlance.
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HBO execs, for their part, have repeatedly disavowed plans to offer HBO Go as a direct-to-consumer service, stressing the go-to-market benefits of pay TV distribution.
At the same time, Netflix is in talks with Comcast and other other cable operators including Time Warner Cable and Cox about potential distribution deals that would include access to Netflix's service through cable set-tops. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said on the company's earnings call Monday that he was "hopeful" it could reach pacts with Comcast and others.
Comcast's launch of the broadband-plus-HBO promotion was reported Thursday by blog site DSLReports.com.