Amazon snares classic HBO shows in deal

Last updated 09:58 24/04/2014

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Fans of classic HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire will soon have access to those series and more through Amazon Prime in the first online streaming deal signed by the cable network.

Starting on May 21, Amazon Prime members - who pay US$99 a year for streaming entertainment, two-day shipping and other perks- will be able to watch other older shows, such as Six Feet Under, Big Love, as well as early seasons of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood.

Past seasons of newer shows such as Girls, The Newsroom and Veep will also become available throughout the multi-year agreement, about three years after airing on HBO.

The exclusive deal also includes older original movies such as Too Big to Fail (2011) and Game Change (2012), as well as original comedy specials from Lewis Black, Louis CK, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Maher.

There was no mention of Game of Thrones, one of the most pirated shows in history. Other shows such as Sex and the City and Entourage were also left out of the deal.

The HBO deal is a big win for Amazon, which is competing with Netflix and Hulu for streaming viewers as more people cut the cord on cable services. Time Warner, which owns HBO, has long seen Netflix as a threat to HBO and has steadfastly refused to license even its old shows to the company for streaming.

Netflix announced its first price hike in three years this week to help pay for more original programming, such as House of Cards. Shares of Netflix dropped almost 5 per cent  following the announcement.

Amazon, too, raised the price of Prime in January from US$79 a year. It was the first increase since the company introduced the service in 2005, at the time without online streaming. But Amazon has been expanding into new areas, not just movie streaming but e-readers and grocery delivery. There are even reports of an upcoming Amazon smartphone.

Amazon and HBO did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, nor its duration.

HBO Go, the network's streaming service that's currently only available to subscribers, will also be offered on Amazon's new streaming device, Fire TV, likely by the end of the year. The US$99 device streams online video, music and other content to televisions, competing with the likes of Apple and Roku.

The deal "positions Prime Instant Video as a viable competitor and potentially more appealing alternative to Netflix," said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. "Through the HBO deal, in addition to its own original content, Amazon has the potential to offer close to 70 different series that we believe HBO owns outright, with multiple seasons available for the more successful shows. In comparison, we believe that Netflix's original series figure is closer to 10, with up to only two seasons available."

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Glenn Whitehead, executive vice president of business and legal affairs at HBO, said that the company has always wanted to capitalize on its position as owners of its original programming.

The Amazon-HBO deal comes the same week that TV broadcasters are facing off at the US Supreme Court with TV-over-the-internet provider Aereo, which offers live broadcast television for a monthly fee.


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