HBO, Amazon Prime team up to stream ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire’ & more

Senior Television Writer
04.23.14 46 Comments

HBO

For cord-cutters who aim to watch the best of television without a cable box (or, in some cases, even a television), HBO has long been the big missing piece of the puzzle. HBO has its own streaming video service, HBO Go, but you can only access it if you already have a cable subscription (or if you have a friend or relative with a subscription who will share their password with you). Cord-cutters ask all the time about the possibility of HBO Go being offered independently, but it would completely undermine HBO’s very lucrative business model to do so, and it hasn’t happened yet, and likely won’t anytime soon.

But today in a very big deal for the future of streaming TV – and for the ongoing war for streaming supremacy between Netflix and Amazon (a rare battlefield where Amazon is an underdog) – HBO and Amazon announced an agreement to, beginning May 21, make Amazon Prime the exclusive(*) streaming home of classic HBO series like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood” and more, as well as to offer seasons of more recent HBO series like “The Newsroom” and “Girls”(**) three years after they first aired on HBO.

(*) “Exclusive,” for what it’s worth, just means for any non-HBO source. So HBO Go is not affected, nor On Demand, etc. If you subscribe to HBO, you still have the same access you always did.

(**) Interestingly, nowhere in the press release (which is included at the bottom of this post) is the phrase “Game of Thrones” used. I’ll try to find out if that’s somehow not part of the deal, or if for some strange reason Amazon didn’t think it useful to trumpet that acquisition.

This is a big deal for both outfits. For Amazon, it’s a reason to encourage people to sign up for Prime and use the streaming service that comes with it, rather than treating Netflix – which has made huge inroads in recent years with both their library and original shows like “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards” – as the end-all, be-all for streaming video. When “Hannibal” and “The Americans” – currently two of the very best dramas on television – were both returning to TV back in February, a lot of people asked me how they could catch up on their first seasons, and when I mentioned Amazon Prime had streaming rights, they shrugged and said they were Netflix only. When you add this enormous library of classic HBO shows, miniseries and movies – and then factor in how poor Netflix’s movie library is, and also how erratic their TV content can be – there’s suddenly a lot of reasons to consider either jumping ship or at least subscribe to both. Netflix has been on the verge of becoming an unbreakable monopoly in this field, and a lack of competition is never good in this kind of area. Now, Netflix can’t afford to be complacent with its library.

For HBO, it alleviates some of the pressure to unbundle HBO Go from a cable subscription, while still making the subscription valuable for people who want to watch current episodes of “Girls” and “Game of Thrones” to be part of the conversation. And it takes this huge library of incredible work and puts it in front of an audience that may have otherwise missed it. Just anecdotally, I know a bunch of college media studies teachers, and they’ve told me that their students have never seen “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” etc., because they only watch what’s available with their Netflix subscription. So there was the threat of an entire generation growing up without the impression of HBO as this great provider of programming (and one they might one day want to subscribe to if they were to get cable), and from a basic tele-literacy standpoint (to borrow David Bianculli’s old phrase), it means that these specific shows will live on even into the cord-cutter generation.

What does everybody else think? If you’re not a Prime subscriber, does this make you more likely to become one? How have you felt about the Netflix experience of late? If you’ve never watched the adventures of Tony Soprano or Jimmy McNulty, is now the time to do so? (Let me answer the last one for you: yes.)

Click through for the relevant part of the press release:

Amazon and HBO Ink Exclusive Multi-Year Deal to Bring Award-Winning HBO Programming To Prime Members

For the first time ever, favorite HBO series like, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Big Love, Eastbound & Down, Oz, Band of Brothers and Deadwood, as well as Early Seasons of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, will become available on Amazon Prime Instant Video

HBO GO coming to Amazon”s Fire TV

SEATTLE-April 23, 2014-(NASDAQ:AMZN)-Amazon.com, Inc. today announced a content licensing agreement with HBO, making Prime Instant Video the exclusive online-only subscription home for select HBO programming. The collection includes award-winning shows such asThe Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Big Love, Deadwood, Eastbound & Down, Family Tree, Enlightened, Treme, early seasons of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, as well as mini-series like Band of Brothers, John Adams and more. Previous seasons of other HBO shows, such as Girls, The Newsroom andVeep will become available over the course of the multi-year agreement, approximately three years after airing on HBO. The first wave of content will arrive on Prime Instant Video May 21. This is the first time that HBO programming has been licensed to an online-only subscription streaming service. This programming will remain on all HBO platforms.

In addition, HBO GO will become available on Fire TV, targeting a launch by year-end. HBO GO is HBO”s authenticated streaming service offering subscribers instant access to over 1,700 titles online including every episode of new and classic HBO series, as well as HBO original films, miniseries, sports, documentaries, specials and a wide selection of blockbuster movies.

“HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking, beloved and award-winning shows in television history, with more than 115 Emmys amongst the assortment of shows coming to Prime members next month,” said Brad Beale, Director of Content Acquisition for Amazon. “HBO original content is some of the most-popular across Amazon Instant Video-our customers love watching these shows. Now Prime members can enjoy a collection of great HBO shows on an unlimited basis, at no additional cost to their Prime membership.”

“Amazon has built a wonderful service-we are excited to have our programming made available to their vast customer base and believe the exposure will create new HBO subscribers,” said Charles Schreger, President of Programming Sales for HBO.

“As owners of our original programming, we have always sought to capitalize on that investment. Given our longstanding relationship with Amazon, we couldn”t think of a better partner to entrust with this valuable collection,” said Glenn Whitehead, Executive Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, who along with Schreger headed up HBO”s negotiating team. “We”re also excited to bring HBO GO to Amazon”s Fire TV. The features like unified voice search will provide a compelling experience for HBO customers.”

Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:

– All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome andSix Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords

– Epic miniseries, including Angels in America, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific and Parade”s End

– Select seasons of current series such as Boardwalk Empire, Treme andTrue Blood

– Hit original movies like Game Change, Too Big To Fail and You Don”t Know Jack

– Pedigreed documentaries including the Autopsy and Iceman series, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and When the Levees Broke

– Hilarious original comedy specials from Lewis Black, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis CK and Bill Maher

The multi-year deal will bring additional seasons of the current series named above, along with early seasons of other series like Girls, The Newsroom and Veep to Prime members over the life of the deal.

Earlier this month, Amazon introduced Fire TV, a tiny box that plugs into your HDTV for easy and instant access to Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, SHOWTIME, low-cost video rentals, and much more. Fire TV also brings photos, music, and games to the living room. Meet Amazon Fire TV at www.amazon.com/FireTV.

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