You still can’t get new HBO shows, like this season’s “Game of Thrones,” without paying for TV.
But starting in May, you’ll be able to get some of the premium cable channel’s older stuff online — via an Amazon Prime subscription.
That means Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to see shows that have already run on HBO, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” And they can also watch older seasons of some shows that are still on the air, like “Girls,” three years after they air.
It’s the first time HBO has offered access to its catalog via a streaming video service that’s not its own HBO Go. And it gives Amazon an important bragging right/differentiation point as it tries to gain ground on rival Netflix.
People familiar with the deal say HBO did not shop the catalog to Netflix or other potential Amazon rivals. UPDATE: Sources say Amazon will pay HBO more than $300 million over three years.
Unlike HBO subscribers who use HBO Go, Amazon customers won’t be able to get all of HBO’s library. The omissions tell an interesting story about the state of digital licensing.
Some of the shows that Amazon customers won’t see, including “Sex and the City,” “Entourage” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” have their streaming rights tied up in syndication deals with TV outlets. And HBO has kept at least one of its shows — “Game of Thrones” — out of the deal, simply because the property is so valuable to the network, according to a person familiar with the transaction.
The absence of “Game of Thrones” also speaks to the balancing act HBO is trying to pull off here. It wants to make more money from shows it has already sold to its paying subscribers, without giving those subscribers any reason to leave.
That’s not entirely new territory for HBO, which already sells digital versions of its older shows — including “Game of Thrones” — via outlets like Amazon and Apple’s iTunes store.
It also wants to assure the pay-TV operators that carry HBO that it’s not undercutting the offering it is wholesaling to them. A person close to HBO says the money the network makes from its Amazon deal will be plowed back into developing more programming and improving the company’s technology.
The upside for Amazon in this deal is clear: It gets a big, shiny brand it can use to set itself apart from the competition. It could also work well for HBO, and may even help the company market itself to nonsubscribers.
The danger for HBO is that it may teach nonsubscribers — and perhaps some current subscribers — that they don’t need to pay for an HBO subscription (and, perhaps, a TV subscription at all) if they’re willing to be patient.
Either HBO figures that’s a risk it can take — or it’s a risk it has to take.
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 as The 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 and Veep 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 and Six 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 and True 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.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.