It was bound to happen sooner or later.
HBO has ended its long holdout from online video, meaning that Tony Soprano, Carrie Bradshaw and the rest of the HBO squad will soon take to the Net.
The premium cable network, a unit of Time Warner, launched its HBO on Broadband service Tuesday, allowing subscribers to watch hundreds of hours of programming on their computers moments after its hit shows are broadcast.
The service will debut in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisc., and will be free for HBO customers who also subscribe to RoadRunner Cable, the broadband division of Time Warner Cable. HBO Vice President Jeff Cusson said there is no word yet on when the service will come to other markets.
The service will be similar to HBO’s on-demand offering, which it launched in 2001, giving subscribers greater flexibility in when they view programming. To access HBO on Broadband, existing customers must already subscribe to the on-demand service.
Viewers will be able to download programming to their computer, but strict digital-rights management (DRM) technology will prevent users from copying the content to portable video devices, such as an iPod, and from sharing over peer-to-peer networks.
Subscribers will be able to program their computers to automatically begin downloading shows as soon as they are available. Television programs and movies will have an online viewing window of at least four weeks. Episodes of a series in mid-season will have a later expiration date. That means, for instance, that the first episode of “The Wire” would be available for viewing at least until the end of the 10-episode season, Cusson said.
The service only works on a PC, for now. Cusson said that a version of the service for a Mac is in development.
HBO will make more than 600 titles available each month, drawn from categories that include original series, movies, comedy, sports and documentaries.
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, HBO’s online content had been limited to a modest selection of clips or sample episodes available through iTunes.
By making the HBO content available exclusively to subscribers of Time Warner’s Internet service, the company hopes that it will encourage customers to sign up for its bundled service, receiving cable and Internet service from the same provider.
The announcement comes less than a week after Time Warner said that it would begin testing a pay-per-usage billing model for RoadRunner subscribers in the Beaumont, Texas, market.