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Netflix predicts HBO will let you binge new shows online before they air on TV

Want to watch all the new “The Young Pope” episodes right now? You can’t. But Reed Hastings says that will change.

Actor Jude Law smokes a cigarette as “The Young Pope” HBO
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Netflix releases entire seasons of its shows at once, so you can watch them all over a weekend or whenever you want.

HBO releases its shows the old-fashioned way, one at a time: If you want to watch the third episode of “The Young Pope,” you’ve got to wait till this Sunday.

But HBO is going to change its tune — says Netflix.

The streaming service predicts that its rival will not only end up embracing the binge model, but will take it a step further, by letting online viewers watch a full season of a new show before it airs on TV.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings offered that forecast in his quarterly shareholders letter today by noting an (unconfirmed) report that the BBC is going to let its viewers watch full seasons on its iPlayer service before they air on traditional TV.

HBO will follow suit, Hastings predicted:

“The BBC has become the first major linear network to announce plans to go binge-first with new seasons, favoring internet over linear viewers. We presume HBO is not far behind the BBC.”

If Hastings is right, it would be a big deal for two reasons:

  • HBO has insisted that it doles out shows once a week for a reason, not just because it’s the way it’s always been done: It says it’s the best way to build anticipation, increase conversation and awareness and grow a show’s audience. And releasing it on a schedule means that much of the audience sees the same thing at the same time, which leads to shared moments like the “Game of Thrones” Red Wedding freak-out:
  • Giving online viewers, via services like HBO Now, access to shows before traditional TV viewers would also be significant. Up until now, HBO has treated HBO’s streaming service and its linear TV service exactly the same when it comes to programming — if a show is available on one of them, it’s available on all of them. As far as I know, it’s contractually obligated to do so.

So why would HBO change? Could it change? Got me. Part of me thinks that this isn’t much more than Hastings’s idea of investor relations smack talk: We’re doing so well that HBO, which once loomed far above us, is going to end up imitating us.

Then again, while Hastings does like to crack the occasional joke around earnings time, it has happened during the earnings call — not within his letter, which is traditionally quite earnest.

So, HBO, what do you want to say about all of this?

I’ve asked, but the company isn’t even no-commenting — it’s not responding at all.

This article originally appeared on

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