|Launched||November 8, 1972|
|Owned by||Home Box Office, Inc.|
|Picture format||1080i (HDTV)|
(downscaled to letterboxed 480i for the network's SDTV channel feeds)
|Slogan||It's what connects us.|
|Headquarters||New York City|
|Available on all U.S. cable systems||Consult your local cable provider or program listings source for channel availability|
|Apple TV Channels||Over-the-top TV
|Amazon Video Channels||Over-the-top TV
|AT&T TV||Internet Protocol television
|Hulu||Internet Protocol television
|YouTube TV||Internet Protocol television
The Home Box Office (HBO) is an American pay television network owned by WarnerMedia and the flagship property of parent subsidiary Home Box Office, Inc. Programming featured on the network consists primarily of theatrically released motion pictures and original television programs, along with made-for-cable movies, documentaries and occasional comedy and concert specials.
HBO is the oldest and longest continuously operating subscription television service (basic or premium) in the United States, having been in operation since November 8, 1972. The overall HBO business unit is one of WarnerMedia's most profitable assets, generating operating income of nearly $2 billion each year; HBO has 140 million subscribers worldwide as of 2018[update].
The network operates seven 24-hour, linear multiplex channels as well as video on demand and streaming platforms, including HBO Go and HBO Now (which launched in April 2015, and has over 5 million subscribers in the United States as of February 2018[update]), and its content is the centerpiece of HBO Max, an expanded streaming platform that also includes separate original programming and content from other WarnerMedia properties. The HBO linear channels are not accessible on either streaming service, but continue to be available to existing subscribers of traditional and virtual pay TV providers, and to Apple and Amazon customers through streaming partnerships with those companies.
As of July 2015[update], HBO's programming is available to approximately 36,493,000 households with at least one television set (31.3% of all cable, satellite and telco customers) in the United States (36,013,000 subscribers or 30.9% of all households with pay television service receive at least HBO's primary channel), making it the second largest premium channel in the United States in terms of total subscribers (Starz Encore, owned by Lionsgate subsidiary Starz Inc., reaches 40.54 million pay television households as of July 2015[update]). In addition to its U.S. subscriber base, HBO distributes its programming content in at least 151 countries worldwide.
HBO subscribers generally pay for an extra tier of service that includes other cable- and satellite-exclusive channels even before paying for the channel itself (though HBO often prices all seven of its channels together in a single package). However, a regulation imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that cable providers allow subscribers to just purchase "limited" basic cable (a base programming tier that includes local, and in some areas, out-of-market broadcast stations and public, educational, and government access channels) and premium services such as HBO, without subscribing to expanded service. (Comcast is the only major provider to have purposefully offered the network in such a manner utilizing this law, as it offered a bundled cable/Internet package that included limited basic service and HBO from October 2013 to July 2014, or until January of the latter year in some markets.) Cable providers can require the use of a converter box—usually digital—in order to receive HBO.
HBO also provides its content direct-to-consumer through digital media: through Home Box Office, Inc., it maintains HBO Go, a video on demand (VOD) streaming service launched in February 2010, that is available as a website and slate of mobile apps exclusively to existing subscribers of the linear channel suite; and HBO Now, a separate, but virtually identical subscription streaming platform, which launched in April 2015 and is sold without requiring customers to have an existing subscription to the HBO television service. A tertiary, co-branded streaming service, HBO Max, launched on May 27, 2020, and is operated by sister subsidiary WarnerMedia Direct LLC. All three services provide content from the linear HBO television channel (including original series, films, comedy specials and documentaries, and theatrical movies from the channel's various film distributors, including sister studio Warner Bros. Pictures); HBO Max, however, augments HBO linear content with a proprietary slate of original programming and content sourced primarily from the libraries of Warner Bros. Television and WarnerMedia's broadcast and basic cable networks (including The CW, CNN, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim). HBO also offers a la carte subscriptions independent of a traditional pay television platform through Apple TV Channels and Amazon Video Channels. In addition to its VOD content library, the subscription channels purchasable via Apple (which include the East and West Coast feeds of the primary HBO channel) and Amazon Video (which includes both coastal feeds of the main channel and the East Coast feeds of all six HBO multiplex channels) offer live feeds of HBO's linear television services, which are not viewable over its proprietary streaming platforms.
HBO also maintains near-ubiquitous distribution in hotels across the United States through agreements with DirecTV, Echostar, SONIFI Solutions, Satellite Management Services, Inc., Telerent Leasing Corporation, Total Media Concepts and World Cinema as well as cable providers that maintain hospitality service arrangements with individual hotels and local franchises of national hotel/motel chains. Although Home Box Office, Inc. does not keep counts of its national hotel distribution, LodgeNet (now SONIFI Solutions) estimated in 2008 that HBO was available to 98% of all hotels that at least receive cable or satellite service via the content and connectivity solutions company. Since June 2018, through a content partnership with Enseo, HBO Go is also distributed to some Marriott International hotels around the U.S.; guests staying in Marriott hotels that have access to HBO Go on connected in-room TV sets are not required to sign into the system in order to access content.
Many HBO programs have been syndicated to other networks and broadcast television stations (usually after some editing for running time and/or content that indecency regulations enforced by jurisdictional telecommunications agencies or self-imposed by network Standards and Practices departments may prohibit from airing on broadcast and cable networks), and a number of HBO-produced series and films have been released on DVD. Since HBO's more successful series (most notably shows such as Sex and the City, The Sopranos, The Wire, Entourage, Six Feet Under, Oz, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and True Blood) air on terrestrial broadcasters in other countries (such as in Canada, Australia and much of Europe—including the United Kingdom), HBO's programming has the potential of being exposed to a higher percentage of the population of those countries compared to the United States.
Because of the cost of HBO (which is the most expensive of the U.S. premium services, costing a monthly fee as of 2015[update] between $15 and $20 depending on the provider and packaging with sister network Cinemax), many Americans only view HBO programs through DVDs or in basic cable or broadcast syndication—months or even years after these programs have first aired on the network—and with editing for both content and to allow advertising, although several series have filmed alternate "clean" scenes intended for syndication runs.
Development and launch
In 1965, Charles Dolan—who had already done pioneering work in the commercial use of cables and had developed Teleguide, a closed-circuit tourist information television system distributed to hotels in the New York metropolitan area—was awarded the franchise rights to build a cable television system in the Lower Manhattan section of New York City. The new system, which Dolan named "Sterling Information Services" (later to be known as Sterling Manhattan Cable, before eventually becoming Time Warner Cable, which merged into Charter Communications in May 2016), became the first urban underground cable television system in the United States.
Rather than stringing cable on telephone poles or using microwave antennas to receive the signals, Sterling laid cable beneath the streets in compliance with a longstanding New York City Council ordinance—originally implemented to prevent broad-scale telephone and telegraph outages, after a severe blizzard affecting the Northeastern United States in March 1888 had caused widespread damage to above-ground utility lines in the area—required that all electrical and telecommunication wiring be laid underground to limit service disruptions during bad weather, and because reception of television signals was impaired by the multitude of tall buildings on Manhattan Island. Despite having the financial backing of Time-Life, Inc. (then the book publishing unit of Time Inc.), which was just entering into cable system ownership as Dolan's company launched, Sterling Manhattan consistently lost money throughout its first six years of operation through a combination of the expenses it incurred with running cable wiring underground and into buildings throughout Manhattan (costing as much as $300,000 per mile), and the company's difficulties in expanding its limited subscriber base (by 1967, subscribership for the Sterling system totaled around 400 customers). As a stipulation for allowing it to continue lending money for the venture, in 1969, Dolan agreed to sell a 44.5% share in Sterling Manhattan to Time-Life.
In the summer of 1971, while on a family vacation en route to France aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, Dolan began conceiving ideas to help make Sterling Manhattan profitable. He came up with a proposal for a cable-originated television channel, which he called "The Green Channel", a subscription service that would offer unedited theatrical movies licensed from the major Hollywood film studios and live sporting events, all presented without interruptions by advertising. Under the proposal, the service's start-up costs would be offset by having Sterling enter into carriage agreements with other cable television providers, and draw revenue from fees charged to cable subscribers who added the channel onto their existing service (which then consisted exclusively of local and imported broadcast stations). Dolan later presented his idea to management at Time-Life, who, despite the potential benefit it might have for the company's existing cable television assets, were initially hesitant to consider the idea. In the early 1970s, the cable television industry was not very profitable, and was under constant scrutiny from FCC regulators and the major broadcast television networks (CBS, NBC and ABC), who saw cable as a threat to their viability. Undeterred, Dolan managed to persuade Time-Life to assist him in backing the project. On November 2, 1971, Time Inc.'s board of directors approved the "Green Channel" proposal, agreeing to give Dolan a $150,000 development grant for the project.
To gauge potential consumer interest in a subscription television service, Time-Life sent out a direct-mail research brochure to residents in six U.S. cities. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed (approximately 99%) opposed the idea of paying for an additional channel, with only 1.2% favoring the concept and expressing interest in being a paid subscriber. In a second survey conducted by an independent consultant, 4% of respondents polled said they were "almost certain" to subscribe to such a service. Time-Life later conducted a test in Allentown, Pennsylvania; in that survery, salesmen presented the pay cable channel concept to residents by offering them free service for the first month and a refundable installation fee; half of all residents interviewed for the second survey had expressed interest in purchasing the conceptual service with the incentives. During the planning stages, film distributors initially expressed reluctance to license their movies to Home Box Office unless they were provided a count of its potential audience reach and subscription pricing estimates to establish a similar licensing payment structure to what they used to exhibit films theatrically. Along with those statistics, cable operators also wanted to know what movies would be shown on HBO to avoid potential liability on advertisers and FCC indecency laws as the channel would air films without editing for objectionable content. HBO executives ultimately agreed to pay a flat licensing fee to the movie studios to acquire film rights, and allowed cable operators to the ability to market HBO directly to their customers.
In a later meeting of Dolan and the executive staff he hired to work on the project, they discussed changing the name of the new service. The team ultimately settled on calling it "Home Box Office", which was meant to convey to potential customers that the service would be their "ticket" to movies and events. The moniker was intended as a placeholder name in order to meet deadlines to publish research brochures about the new service; management intended to come up with a permanent name as development continued, however, the "Home Box Office" name would ultimately be kept around to serve that purpose. A New York City Council provision restricting pay television franchises prevented HBO from being launched over the Sterling Manhattan system; Dolan then sought a city that had two competing cable systems to serve as its inaugural distributor. Originally, he settled on debuting Home Box Office on a Teleservice (now Service Electric) cable television system in Allentown. However, management found out that Allentown and surrounding areas fell within the 75-mile (121 km) blackout radius designated by the Philadelphia 76ers to protect ticket sales; since HBO agreed to carry NBA games, this rule would have resulted in any games involving the team not being shown in the area over the channel. Time-Life subsequently agreed to an offer by Teleservice president John Walson to launch the channel on its system in Wilkes-Barre (located in northeastern Pennsylvania, outside of the 76ers' DMA).
Home Box Office launched at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time on November 8, 1972. The first program and event telecast aired on the channel, an NHL hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks from Madison Square Garden, was transmitted over channel 21—its original assigned channel on the Teleservice system—that evening to 325 Teleservice subscribers in Wilkes-Barre. (A plaque commemorating the launch event is located at Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre.) Home Box Office aired its first movie presentation immediately after the sports event: the 1971 film Sometimes a Great Notion, starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. HBO's launch came with very little fanfare in the press; other than print advertisements in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader that promoted the launch, the channel's debut was not covered by any local or national media outlets. The city administrator of Wilkes-Barre declined an offer to attend the launch ceremony, while Time Inc. president and chief executive officer J. Richard Munro was unable to attend as he became stranded in traffic while trying to exit Manhattan by way of the George Washington Bridge as he was attempting to commute to Wilkes-Barre. Further complicating preparations for the inaugural telecast, strong winds toppled a microwave reception dish atop the roof of the local Teleservice office that was being used to relay the feed to the microwave towers. Teleservice representatives sent a technician to repair the antenna in time for the channel's launch.
Although its base had grown from what it had when HBO was being conceived, Sterling Manhattan Cable continued to lose money because the company had only a small subscriber base of 20,000 customers within Manhattan. In late 1972, Dolan's media partner, Time-Life, Inc., gained majority control of Sterling through its acquisition of an additional 60% equity interest from Dolan, increasing Time-Life's stake in the company to 66.5%. Four months after the channel launched, in February 1973, Home Box Office aired its first non-sports entertainment special, the Pennsylvania Polka Festival, a three-hour-long music event broadcast from the Allentown Fairgrounds in Allentown, Pennsylvania. To reach a regional audience, Home Box Office would use a network of microwave relay towers to distribute its programming to cable systems throughout its service area.
Amid policy differences with Time-Life management, Dolan resigned from Sterling Manhattan and HBO in March 1973. Shortly afterward, Time-Life purchased an additional 20% stake in the two companies, expanding its controlling interest from 66.5% to 86.5%, and decided to reorganize the Sterling Manhattan operation. Time-Life dropped the "Sterling" name and the company was renamed "Manhattan Cable Television" under Time-Life's control in March 1973. Gerald Levin—an entertainment industry attorney who had been with Home Box Office since it began operations as its director of finance, and later as its vice president and director of programming—replaced Dolan as the company's president and chief executive officer.
In September 1973, Time-Life, Inc. completed its acquisition of Sterling's remaining interest in Home Box Office. At the time, the service's future looked dim: HBO only had 8,000 subscribers across 14 cable systems at that time, all of them located in Pennsylvania, and it was suffering from a significant churn rate from subscribers who cancelled their service after finding its program scheduling repetitive. HBO would eventually increase its fortunes within two years: by April 1975, the service had around 100,000 subscribers in Pennsylvania and New York state, and had begun to turn a limited profit.
National expansion, innovation and rise to prominence (1975–1993)
Time-Life executives recognized the problems in trying to expand Home Box Office's distribution footprint using microwave towers because of the time and expense that would be incurred in developing such a vast relay infrastructure; the company began looking for cost-efficient methods of transmitting the channel on a national scale. In 1974, the company settled on using a geostationary communications satellite to transmit HBO to cable providers throughout the United States. Other television broadcasters at the time were hesitant about uplinking their feeds to satellite because they feared that the satellites may inadvertently shut down or jettison out of their orbit, as well as reservations about the cost of purchasing downlink receiver dishes, which in 1974, were sold for as much as $75,000. Seeing satellite transmission as the only viable option to expand HBO's reach, Gerald Levin allocated $6.5 million in funding to lease transponder space on the Westar 1 satellite for a five-year term. The Time-Life board subsequently approved the satellite transmission plan.
On September 30, 1975 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Home Box Office became the first television network to continuously deliver its signal via satellite (as opposed to microwave relay, the industry norm at the time) when it transmitted the "Thrilla in Manila," the heavyweight championship boxing match—held at the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Philippines—that saw Muhammad Ali defeat Joe Frazier by technical knockout. The event was beamed to UA-Columbia Cablevision's systems in Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, Florida, and American Television and Communications Corporation's Jackson, Mississippi system, as well as cable systems that were already carrying HBO in the northeastern United States. Through the use of satellite, the channel began transmitting separate programming feeds for the Eastern and Pacific Time Zones, allowing the same programs that are first broadcast in the eastern half of the United States to air at accordant times in the western part of the country. HBO soon moved its domestic satellite transmissions from Westar 1 to Satcom 1 in February 1976. By 1977, the then Ted Turner-owned Atlanta superstation WTCG-TV (soon to become WTBS) and the then Pat Robertson-owned CBN Satellite Service (later to become the present-day Freeform) had joined it in adopting transmission via satellite, pioneering satellite delivery for the cable television industry. With this delivery method, by 1980, HBO was carried on cable providers in all 50 U.S. states and had a total of around 15 million subscribers.
Originally, HBO only provided programming for nine hours each day, from 3:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, over its first nine years of operation. The network first adopted a 24-hour program schedule on September 4, 1981, running each weekend from 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoons until 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Sunday nights/early Monday mornings; the 24-hour-a-day scheduling was expanded to weekdays three months later on December 28, 1981, allowing HBO to offer programming all day and night throughout the week, except for occasional interruptions for scheduled early-morning technical maintenance. (HBO was not the first pay television network to maintain an uninterrupted programming schedule as Showtime and The Movie Channel had both switched to 24-hour daily schedules months earlier, on July 4, 1981 and January 1, 1980, respectively.) By this time, the full "Home Box Office" name was de-emphasized by the network, in favor of branding solely by the "HBO" initialism. (The full name is still used as the legal corporate name of its parent division under WarnerMedia, and is used on-air in daily copyright IDs, end-credit copyright tags, and a proprietary vanity card shown at the close of the network's original programs.)
On January 10, 1983, HBO premiered its first regularly scheduled children's program, Fraggle Rock. Created by Jim Henson (who produced the 1978 ACE Award-winning special Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas for HBO) and co-produced with Television South, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Henson Associates, the series (which ran for five seasons, ending in March 1987) centered on a group of various interconnected Muppet species. Also in early 1983, HBO jumped ahead of its competitors to become the first pay television service to broadcast Star Wars. As was common with film rights at the time in the pay-TV industry, 20th Century Fox sold off the premium television rights to the science fiction classic on a non-exclusive basis: HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Home Theater Network and Spotlight were contractually bound to premiere it no earlier than 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time on February 1. However, HBO had managed to air the movie at midnight ET that same day, after paying Fox for permission to broadcast the film six hours ahead of the competition without promoting their coup to attract an audience other than night owls.
Later that year, on May 22, 1983, HBO premiered The Terry Fox Story, the first television movie ever produced for the network and the first to be produced for a pay television channel. The biographical film profiled the Canadian amputee runner (Eric Fryer) who embarked on a cross-country run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research before Fox's deteriorating health from advanced cancer (from which he succumbed) ended the trek after 143 days. Besides its venture into original programmin, the 1980s also saw HBO became involved in several lawsuits concerning conflicts with the unedited nature of the network's programming and municipal and state-level legal statutes (in such areas as Utah) that would have forced cable systems, if not the pay services themselves, to exclude inappropriate content in programs shown on HBO and other pay television networks.
On January 15, 1986, HBO began scrambling its signal using the Videocipher II encryption system, becoming the first satellite-delivered television network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by C-band satellite dish owners who did not subscribe to the service as well as cable. The move initially resulted in widespread complaints from television receive-only (TVRO) satellite users that previously could view programming on HBO's transponder signal without a subscription, due to the expense of Videocipher II set-top descramblers required to unencrypt the signal (retailing up to $395, plus a monthly subscription for $12.95, equal to or slightly higher than the rates cable subscribers paid to receive HBO programming, and rental fees for the Videocipher receivers), while several satellite dish dealers throughout the U.S. closed their stores as the expansion of signal scrambling caused hefty declines in dish sales.
The objections by TVRO users—as well as by members of the Satellite Television Industry Association, who, in March of that year, lobbied Congress to pass legislation to protect access to satellite transmissions—over having to now pay for HBO as cable subscribers had long done and paying for extra reception equipment came to a head four months later on April 26, when John R. MacDougall, an Ocala, Florida satellite dish retailer calling himself "Captain Midnight", staged his own protest of the changes by redirecting a receiver dish towards the network's Galaxy 1 transponder and intercepting the HBO signal during a late-night presentation of the 1985 spy drama film The Falcon and the Snowman. In this act of broadcast signal intrusion, the film's telecast was overridden with a text-based message written by MacDougall, placed over SMPTE color bars, in protest of the channel's decision to scramble its signal for home satellite subscribers and warning other premium services of possible backlash if they followed suit ("$12.95/MONTH ? NO WAY ! [SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]"). The Federal Communications Commission subsequently charged MacDougall for "illegally operating a satellite uplink transmitter," for which he pleaded guilty after deciding to cooperate with the FCC's investigation into the incident; under a plea bargain deal, MacDougall was fined $5,000, was put on unsupervised probation for one year, and had his amateur radio license suspended for one year.
As the 1980s wound down, HBO saw its subscriber base expand greatly as a byproduct of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike; throughout the strike (which lasted from March 7 to August 7 of that year), HBO had an inventory of first-run programming whereas the broadcast networks were only able to air reruns of their shows because of the abrupt halt to their production schedules and the delayed start of the fall television season. Leaning into its growing prominence in pay television, in 1989, HBO unveiled the promotional campaign "Simply the Best"—which used the Tina Turner single "The Best" as its imaging theme in some on-air advertisements—basing its programming in comparison to rival Showtime.
On January 2, 1989, HBO launched a Spanish-language audio feed of HBO and Cinemax, Selecciones en Español de HBO y Cinemax ("Spanish Selections from HBO and Cinemax"), targeted mainly at Hispanic and Latino customers. The service, which initially launched on 20 cable systems in markets with significant populations of residents who speak Spanish dominantly or as a first language, originally provided Spanish audio simulcasts of HBO's live boxing matches (except for certain events broadcast exclusively in Spanish on networks such as Galavisión), dubbed versions of recent feature film releases from HBO's movie suppliers and first-run Spanish-language movies (mostly from Mexico, Argentina and Spain); Selecciones would later add Spanish-dubbed prints of the network's theatrical films and its original scripted, documentary, family and magazine programs. Selecciones—which was offered in tandem with HBO, but operated as a separate service—utilized the second audio program auxiliary channel to distribute its Spanish audio feeds. Selecciones en Español de HBO y Cinemax achieved quick success, resulting in HBO expanding the service to 35 additional cable systems across the U.S. only a few weeks after its debut. Selecciones en Español was rebranded as HBO en Español on September 27, 1993.
On March 4, 1989, Warner Communications—which, ironically, was part-owner of rival pay-cable service The Movie Channel from its launch in 1973 until joint venture group Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment sold its stake in the channel to majority partner Viacom in 1986—announced its intent to merge with HBO parent Time Inc. for $14.9 billion in cash and stock. Following two failed attempts by Paramount Communications to legally block the merger, as Paramount was seeking to acquire Time in a hostile takeover bid, the merger was completed on January 10, 1990, resulting in the consolidated entity creating Time Warner (now known as WarnerMedia), which as of 2018[update], remains the parent company of the network. In 1993, HBO became the first television service in the world to digitally transmit its signal. The move would allow Home Box Office, Inc. to launch additional multiplex channels of both HBO and Cinemax—commencing with the December 1996 launch of HBO Family and concluding with the 2001 launches of four Cinemax channels: WMax (now MovieMax), @Max (now Cinemáx), OuterMax and 5StarMax.
Rising prominence of original programming (1993–2016)
During the 1990s, HBO began developing a reputation for high-quality and irreverent original programming; it was throughout this decade that the network experienced increasing success among audiences and acclaim from television critics for original series such as Tales from the Crypt (a horror anthology series based on the 1950s EC Comics series of the same name), Dream On (from eventual Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, and which utilized clips from black-and-white television series to illustrate the thoughts of divorced New York City book editor Martin Tupper [Brian Benben]), Tracey Takes On... (a topical sketch comedy show, in which comedienne Tracey Ullman, tackles a specific subject through sketches and monologues), Mr. Show with Bob and David (a sketch comedy series hosted by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, featuring on-stage sketches and pre-taped pieces) and Arliss (a Robert Wuhl-led comedy about the exploits of a sports agent).
One of the scripted comedy programs that premiered early in the decade, Garry Shandling vehicle The Larry Sanders Show, arguably became HBO's flagship series of the 1990s; although it was not commercially as successful as programs airing on the Big Three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) and Fox, the show—which followed the production of a fictional late night talk show—enjoyed a cult status and critical acclaim, and received multiple nominations and wins for many major television awards (including four CableACE Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and two Peabody Awards). Along with influencing HBO's later scripted programming efforts, Larry Sanders—which ran for six seasons from August 1992 to May 1998—served as an influence for other show business-based satire series (such as 30 Rock, My Life on the D-List and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), the use of celebrity guest stars portraying themselves, the absence of laugh tracks now synonymous with single-camera sitcoms and its use of embarrassment-structured comedy (as later popularized by The Office, Arrested Development and the HBO original comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm). The series ranked #38 on TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" in 2002 (becoming the only HBO comedy series to make the list) and was also included in Time's list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time" in 2007. The Larry Sanders Show was also ranked by various critics and fans as one of the best TV comedies of the 1990s.
The original programs that HBO has developed since the early 1990s have earned the channel numerous Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations and wins. HBO has been nominated in at least one category at the Emmys and Golden Globes since 1988 (when the network earned its first Emmy nomination for Danny Glover's performance as Nelson Mandela in the 1987 original movie Mandela), and set a record for the most Primetime Emmy nominations for a television network in a single year (137) in 2019. Two reasons for what is perceived as the higher quality of these shows are the quality of the writing on the programs and the fact that as a subscription-only service, HBO does not carry "normal" commercials; instead the network runs promotions for upcoming HBO programs and behind-the-scenes featurettes between programs. This relieves HBO from some pressures to tone down controversial aspects of its programs, and allows for more explicit content to be incorporated into its shows that would not be allowed to air on broadcast television or basic cable, such as profanity, strong/graphic violence, nudity and graphic sex scenes.
In July 1997, HBO premiered its first one-hour dramatic narrative series Oz, centering on the inmates of the Oswald State Correctional Facility, a fictional level 4 maximum-security state prison. The program helped start the trend of narrative dramas incorporating gritty realism and storytelling that became standard among premium cable services to the present day. While Oz was critically acclaimed throughout its six-season run, it was not until The Sopranos premiered in January 1999, that the network achieved widespread critical success with an hour-long drama series. The Sopranos—centering on mob patriarch Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his family—received 111 Emmy nominations and 21 wins over the course of its six-season run, including two honors for Outstanding Drama Series. The mob drama's first wins for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (for Drea de Matteo) in 2004, two of the four Emmys it won that year, marked the first time that a cable program won in either category over a program on one of the major broadcast networks.
1998 saw the debut of From the Earth to the Moon, a 12-part miniseries that was produced by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and based on the Andrew Chaikin book A Man on the Moon. Costing $68 million to produce, it traced the U.S. space program from the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union through the final moon landing, Apollo 17. From the Earth to the Moon—which won three Emmy Awards, including for Outstanding Miniseries, and a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries or Television Film—helped lay the groundwork for other high-profile historical films and miniseries produced by the network in subsequent years including 61* (a Billy Crystal-directed 2001 biopic chronicling New York Yankees legends Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle's New York Yankees race to break Babe Ruth's 1927 single-season record of 60 home runs), Band of Brothers (a ten-part 2001 miniseries produced by Hanks and Steven Spielberg, about the E Company soldiers of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the European Theater combat of the Pacific War), John Adams and The Pacific (a ten-part 2010 companion miniseries to Band of Brothers from Spielberg and Hanks, based on the 1992 Stephen E. Ambrose book focusing on the United States Marine Corps's Pacific Theater battles during the Pacific War).
In June 1998, Sex and the City, based on the book series of the same name by Candace Bushnell, made its debut on the network. Over the course of its six-season run, the comedy series—centering on the friendship and romances of four New York City women—received 54 Emmy nominations and won seven, including one win for Outstanding Comedy Series, and in 2004, the first wins for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (for Sarah Jessica Parker) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (for Cynthia Nixon) for HBO since the network first gained Emmy eligibility.
The 2000s opened with two series that, although they did not surpass The Sopranos in viewership success, maintained similar or matched its critical acclaim, further cementing HBO's reputation as a leading producer of quality television programming. Six Feet Under, premiering in August 2001, was an ensemble drama centering on the lives of a family managing a Los Angeles funeral home. Winning, among others, nine Emmys, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and a Peabody Award, it has since been regarded as one of television's best all-time series, making such lists ranked by Time, The Guardian, and Empire. The Wire, premiering in June 2002 and created by author and former police reporter David Simon, was an anthology-style crime drama focusing on different Baltimore institutions and their relationship to law enforcement in each season, tying subsequent storylines through existing characters and prior storylines. While it never won any major television awards, it earned wide critical acclaim for its writing and depictions of criminal and law enforcement issues, also becoming regarded as one of the best series of all time by media organizations such as TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and the BBC.
The 2003 miniseries Angels in America (based on the Pulitzer-winning play by Tony Kushner, centering around the intersecting lives of six people in 1985 New York), became the first (and to date, only) program to sweep all seven major categories at the Primetime Emmys in the ceremony's history as well as the second program (after Caesar's Hour in 1957) to win all four main acting categories during the 2004 ceremony. HBO experienced additional viewer success with the 2008 debut of True Blood, a vampire-themed fantasy horror drama based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries gothic novel series by Charlaine Harris. While earning few major television awards throughout its run, True Blood's average viewership often rivaled that of The Sopranos, peaking at an average of 12.4 million per week (counting repeat and on-demand viewership) during its second season.
The network saw three more hit series premiere in the 2010s: Game of Thrones—based on George R. R. Martin's fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire—which earned both critical and viewer praise, and set a single-year record for Emmy wins by an individual program in 2015 with 12 awards; Girls, a comedy series created by series star Lena Dunham; and True Detective, an anthology-style series—structured to feature a different cast and setting within each season's storyline—which initially saw established film actors Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in its lead roles.
On August 13, 2015, HBO announced its re-entry into children's programming, when it reached a five-year programming and development deal with Sesame Workshop. Through the agreement, HBO obtained first-run television rights to Sesame Street, beginning with the January 2016 debut of its 46th season (with episodes being distributed to the program's longtime broadcaster, PBS, following a nine-month exclusivity window at no charge to its member stations); Sesame Workshop will also produce original children's programming content for the channel, which also gained exclusive streaming rights to the company's programming library for HBO Go and HBO Now (assuming those rights from Amazon Video, Netflix and Sesame Workshop's in-house subscription streaming service, Sesame Go, the latter of which will cease to operate as a standalone offering). Although struck with the intent to having the show remain on PBS in some fashion, the nonprofit production company reached the deal due to cutbacks resulting from declines in public and private donations, distribution fees paid by PBS member stations and licensing for merchandise sales. With the debut of HBO Max in May 2020, all Sesame Workshop content will shift from the linear HBO service to the OTT platform upon Max's launch.
AT&T era (2016–present)
On October 22, 2016, AT&T announced an offer to acquire Time Warner for $108.7 billion, including debt it would assume from the latter; the merger would bring Time Warner's various media properties, including HBO and Cinemax, under the same corporate umbrella as AT&T's telecommunications holdings, including satellite provider DirecTV and IPTV/broadband provider AT&T U-verse. Time Warner shareholders approved the merger on February 15, 2017.
On November 20, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against AT&T and Time Warner in an attempt to block the merger, citing antitrust concerns surrounding the transaction. U.S. clearance of the proposed merger—which had already received approval from European, Mexican, Chilean and Brazilian regulatory authorities���was affirmed by court ruling on June 12, 2018, after District of Columbia U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled in favor of AT&T, and dismissed antitrust claims asserted in the DOJ's lawsuit. The merger closed two days later on June 14, 2018, with Time Warner becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T, which renamed the unit WarnerMedia. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington unanimously upheld the lower court's ruling in favor of AT&T on February 26, 2019.
In July 2018, The New York Times obtained audio from a corporate town hall meeting featuring AT&T executive John Stankey—CEO of WarnerMedia from the merger's completion until May 2020, when Stankey shifted to chief operating officer during his transition to replacing Randall Stephenson as AT&T's CEO—who argued that HBO's current content model was not profitable enough, and that the network had to produce more content (similar to that offered by streaming services such as Netflix) in order to achieve more engagement with subscribers (including short-form content oriented towards mobile devices), and that HBO needed to "move beyond 35 to 40 percent penetration to have this become a much more common product." Stankey's statement contradicted the fact that HBO had been consistently profitable over the last three years, totaling nearly $6 billion, while allocating more than $2 billion per year for programming.
Building on this concept, on October 10, 2018, Stankey stated that the company was developing a new over-the-top (OTT) streaming service that would feature content from various WarnerMedia properties including HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. WarnerMedia would later announce on July 9, 2019, that the service would be co-branded with HBO, under the name HBO Max. The service—which was developed under a separate infrastructure from HBO's existing streaming platforms, HBO Go and HBO Now, and will not immediately replace those services—launched on May 27, 2020.
On November 1, 2018, HBO and Cinemax were pulled from Dish Network and Sling TV in a carriage dispute with Dish Network Corporation over distribution fees, marking the first time the network had ever been removed from a pay television provider in its then 46-year history. (The dispute did not affect Dish/Sling's carriage of WarnerMedia's other cable networks, which were distributed to the satellite and virtual MVPD providers under a separate carriage agreement. As of 2020[update], Dish Network and WarnerMedia have not resumed negotiations to restore HBO and Cinemax on the former's pay television services.)
On February 28, 2019, Richard Plepler stepped down from his position as CEO of Home Box Office, Inc., after a collective 27-year tenure at HBO and twelve years as head of the network and its parent unit. The New York Times reported that Plepler "found he had less autonomy after the merger." On March 4 of that year, AT&T announced a major reorganization of WarnerMedia's assets, dividing WarnerMedia's television properties among three corporate divisions. Home Box Office, Inc. (encompassing HBO, Cinemax, and their respective wholly owned international channels and streaming services) was reassigned to WarnerMedia Entertainment, placing it under the same umbrella as sister basic cable networks TBS, TNT and TruTV (which were formerly part of the dissolved Turner Broadcasting System subsidiary), and under the leadership of former NBC and Showtime executive Bob Greenblatt. (Other former Turner assets were split between two other new subsidiaries: WarnerMedia News & Sports, which oversees CNN and its sister networks, Turner Sports and management operations for NBA TV, and WarnerMedia Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics, a unit of Warner Bros. that oversees such networks as Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies.)
On August 1, 1991, Home Box Office, Inc. launched secondary and tertiary channels of HBO and Cinemax, making them the first premium services to offer companion channels of the main network feed to cable customers, a practice known as "multiplexing". The additional channels—HBO 2, HBO 3 and Cinemax 2—scheduled Home Box Office's slate of movies, original series and specials in differing timeslots, and made available at no extra charge to existing HBO and Cinemax subscribers. The three channels launched as part of a test over three TeleCable-operated systems in Overland Park, Kansas, Racine, Wisconsin and the Dallas suburbs of Richardson and Plano, Texas. Research from ACNielsen released the following November uncovered that multiplexing of HBO and Cinemax had positive impacts on subscriber usage and attitudes, most notably, a reduction in subscriber turnover rates. At the time HBO announced the multiplex channel launches, John K. Billock—then the network's executive vice president of marketing—noted that internal research indicated HBO and Cinemax subscribers frequently cancelled their subscriptions either because they believed that neither channel had "never anything on worth watching" or, when presented a full monthly schedule, they felt that programs they wanted to watch were not scheduled at preferable times.
The HBO multiplex expanded on December 1, 1996, with the launch of a fourth channel, HBO Family, focusing on family-oriented feature films and television series aimed at younger children. HBO began collectively branding its multiplex channels under the umbrella of "HBO The Works" in April 1998, coinciding with the relaunch of HBO2 as HBO Plus (which would revert to the original name in September 2002), and the rebranding and format change of HBO3 as HBO Signature (offering content leaning toward a female audience). (Home Box Office, Inc. concurrently began marketing the Cinemax channels under the "MultiMax" banner.) Two more channels would launch in May 1999: HBO Comedy (featuring comedic films and series, along with comedy specials) and HBO Zone (offering movies and HBO original programming aimed at young adults). Rounding out the HBO multiplex was HBO Latino, a Spanish language network launched in October 2000, featuring a mix of dubbed simulcasts of programming from the primary HBO channel as well as exclusive Spanish-originated programs.
The multiplex tier continued to be marketed as "HBO The Works" until 2004; as of 2020[update], the HBO linear channel suite does not have an "official" marketed name, although HBO and Cinemax's respective multiplex packages have been marketed collectively afterward (and beforehand) as the "HBO/MAX Pak". Starting with the launch of the former's site in 1998, HBO Family and HBO Latino were the only HBO multiplex channels that maintained dedicated websites, whereas the remaining channels were promoted within the main HBO.com website; both channels had their online content merged into HBO.com in 2010, around the time HBO Go launched.
List of channels
Depending on the service provider, HBO provides up to seven 24-hour multiplex channels—all of which are simulcast in both standard definition and high definition, and available as time zone-based regional feeds—as well as a subscription video-on-demand service (HBO on Demand). Off-the-air maintenance periods of anywhere from a half-hour up to two hours occur at varied overnight/early morning time slots (usually preceding the 6:00 a.m. ET/PT start of the defined broadcast day) once per month on each channel.
HBO transmits feeds of its primary and multiplex channels on both Eastern and Pacific Time Zone schedules. The respective coastal feeds of each channel are usually packaged together, resulting in the difference in local airtimes for a particular movie or program between two geographic locations being three hours at most. (Most cable, satellite and IPTV providers as well as its Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video OTT channels only offer the East and West Coast feeds of the main HBO channel; some conventional television providers may include coastal feeds of HBO2 in certain areas, while wider availability of coastal feeds for the other multiplex channels is limited to subscribers of DirecTV, YouTube TV and the Hulu live TV service.)
The premium film service Cinemax, which is also owned by WarnerMedia through Home Box Office, Inc., operates as a separate television network from HBO; although television providers very frequently sell HBO and Cinemax together in a singular package, customers have the option of subscribing to either service's channel package individually.
|Channel||Description and programming|
|The flagship channel; HBO airs popular and first-run feature films, original series and made-for-cable movies, sports-focused magazine and documentary series, comedy and occasional concert specials, and documentaries. The channel also airs weekly premieres of recent theatrical or new HBO original movies—with feature films debuting on HBO within a lag of between eight months to one year on average from their initial theatrical release—on Saturday nights (usually around 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time; the Pacific Time Zone broadcast of the premiered film may air later in the evening in the event that a live special is scheduled to air that particular Saturday, with the special being shown after the movie on the Eastern Time Zone feed). The main HBO channel mainly airs R-rated films mainly after 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (sometimes as early as 5:00 p.m. ET/PT), although it does air certain TV-MA rated programs during the daytime hours.|
|HBO's secondary channel; HBO2 offers a separate schedule of theatrical and original made-for-cable movies (including daytime airings of R-rated films that the main HBO channel is usually restricted from airing in the morning, early- and mid-afternoon hours), series and specials, as well as same-week rebroadcasts of newer films, and recent episodes of HBO original series originally aired on the primary channel. Launched on August 1, 1991, HBO2 originally used a channel-specific version of the main HBO channel's then-current on-air look; by 1993, this was replaced with a spartan "program grid" layout during promotional breaks, similar to the visual appearance then used by the Prevue Channel (and subsequently applied by HBO 3, Cinemax 2 [now MoreMax] and Cinemax 3 [now ActionMax]). The channel was rebranded as HBO Plus on October 1, 1998, concurrently adopting a distinct on-air look from the primary channel. Since the reversion to the "HBO2" brand in September 2002, the channel has used minor variations of the main HBO channel's on-air identity.
The "HBO2" moniker is shared with an HBO Latin America Group-owned service serving Mexico and portions of Central and South America, which primarily carries theatrical movies previously aired on the main HBO Latin America channel. (HBO Latin America also operates a separate channel using the American HBO2's former HBO Plus branding.)
|Launched on May 6, 1999, HBO Comedy features comedic films, as well as rebroadcasts of HBO's original comedy series and stand-up specials; although the channel broadcasts R-rated films during the daytime hours, HBO Comedy only airs adult comedy specials at night.|
|Launched on December 1, 1996, HBO Family features movies and series aimed at children, as well as feature films intended for a broader family audience. A block of preschooler-targeted series, "HBO Kids" (formerly known as "Jam" from August 2001 to January 2016), is also offered daily from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m. and weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time; movies and family-oriented original specials occupy the remainder of the channel's daily schedule. Movie presentations on HBO Family are restricted to encompass films rated G, PG or PG-13 (or the equivalent TV-G, TV-PG or TV-14), and as such, it is the only HBO channel that does not air R, NC-17 or TV-MA rated program content. Originally intended as a secondary service for HBO's family-oriented programming, HBO Family assumed exclusivity over the children's programs (which formerly aired in a daily morning block on the main channel) and family-oriented specials (previously shown on HBO in late afternoon or early evening timeslots) when HBO stopped running these programs on its primary channel in 2001. With the exception of an hour-long block at 9:00 a.m. Eastern/Pacific (currently[update] consisting of Sesame Street and Esme & Roy) and an unbranded block of one to two movies appropriate for family viewing on Saturdays (before and after the aforementioned children's series), HBO currently offers very little children's programming on its main channel.
HBO Family is HBO's third (and only successful) venture at operating a family-oriented pay service, following the similarly formatted and short-lived mini-pay services Take 2 (in 1979) and Festival (in 1986). Despite being a premium service, HBO Family has occasionally been offered on the basic tiers of select cable providers to temporarily replace local television stations removed as a consequence of carriage disputes; such instances include during Hearst Television's 2012 dispute with Time Warner Cable that resulted in TWC's associated Bright House Networks system in Tampa, Florida, substituting independent station WMOR-TV with HBO Family, and a dispute between Cox Communications and LIN TV in which the channel was used as a placeholder for Fox affiliate WVBT on Cox's Hampton Roads, Virginia system from January to February 2000.
|Launched on October 31, 2000 (although originally slated to debut on September 18 of that year), HBO Latino offers programming catering to Hispanic and Latino American audiences, including HBO original productions, Spanish and Portuguese series sourced from HBO Latin America, dubbed versions of American theatrical releases, and domestic and imported Spanish-language films. Outside of breakaways for exclusive original and acquired programs, and separate promotional advertising between programs, HBO Latino largely acts as a de facto Spanish language simulcast of the primary HBO channel. (All other HBO multiplex channels provide alternate Spanish audio tracks of most of their programming via second audio program feeds.) HBO Latino is the indirect successor to HBO en Español (originally named Selecciones en Español de HBO y Cinemax), which launched in 1989.|
|HBO Signature features high quality films, HBO original series and specials. Launched on August 1, 1991, the channel was originally known as "HBO 3" until September 30, 1998, maintaining a genericized format similar to HBO and HBO2; it rebranded as HBO Signature the following day (October 1), when its programming shifted focus around movies, series and specials targeted at a female audience.|
|Launched on May 6, 1999, HBO Zone airs movies and HBO original programs aimed at young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Until Home Box Office, Inc. removed sister network Cinemax's Max After Dark adult programming block and all associated programming from its other television and streaming platforms in 2018, HBO Zone also carried softcore pornographic films acquired for the Cinemax block in late-night, dependent on their inclusion on each day's program schedule; as such, it is the only HBO channel that has aired adult-oriented pornographic movies on its regular schedule.|
Cinemax is an American pay television network owned by the Home Box Office, Inc. subsidiary of WarnerMedia Entertainment. Originally developed as a companion service to HBO, the channel's programming consists of recent and some older theatrically released feature films, original action drama series, documentaries and special behind-the-scenes featurettes.
On August 1, 1980, HBO launched Cinemax, a companion movie-based premium channel created as a direct competitor to The Movie Channel, then a smaller, standalone pay movie service owned by Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment (then part-owned by WarnerMedia predecessor Warner Communications). Cinemax succeeded in its early years partly because of its reliance on classic movie releases from the 1950s to the 1970s—with some more recent films mixed into its schedule—that it presented uncut and without commercial interruption, at a time when limited headend channel capacity resulted in cable subscribers only being able to receive as many as three dozen channels (up to half of which were reserved for local and out-of-market broadcast stations, and public access channels). In most cases, cable operators tended to sell Cinemax and HBO as a singular premium bundle, usually offered at a discount for customers that decided to subscribe to both channels. Cinemax, unlike HBO, also maintained a 24-hour schedule from its launch, one of the first pay cable services to transmit around-the-clock.
Even early in its existence, Cinemax efforted to diversify its programming beyond movies. Beginning in 1984, it incorporated music specials and some limited original programming (among them, SCTV Channel and Max Headroom) into the channel's schedule. Around this time, Cinemax also began airing adult-oriented softcore pornographic films and series—containing strong sexual content and nudity—in varying late night timeslots (usually no earlier than 11:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific); this programming block, originally airing under the "Friday After Dark" banner (renamed "Max After Dark" in 2008 to better reflect its prior expansion to a nightly block), would become strongly associated with the channel among its subscribers and in pop culture. The channel began gradually scaling back its adult programming offerings in 2011, in an effort to shift focus towards its mainstream films and original programs, culminating in the removal of "Max After Dark" content from its linear and on-demand platforms in 2018, as part of a broader exit from the genre across Home Box Office, Inc.'s platforms. In terms of mainstream programming, Cinemax began premiering original action series in the early 2010s, beginning with the August 2011 debut of Strike Back (which has since become the channel's longest-running original program). Cinemax plans to eliminate scripted programming altogether after its current slate of action series ends in 2020 or early 2021 as WarnerMedia reallocates its programming resources toward the HBO Max streaming service, shifting the channel back to its original structure as a movie-exclusive premium service.
The linear Cinemax multiplex service, as of 2020[update], consists of the primary feed and six thematic channels: MoreMax (launched in April 1991 as Cinemax 2, in conjunction with HBO2's rollout); ActionMax (originally launched as Cinemax 3 in 1995); ThrillerMax (launched in 1998); MovieMax (originally launched as the female-targeted WMax in 2001); Cinemáx (a Spanish language simulcast feed, which originally launched as the young adult-focused @Max in 2001) and 5StarMax (launched in 2001).
|Launched||April 1, 1979|
|Closed||September 1, 1979|
|Owned by||Home Box Office, Inc.|
(in select markets)
|Headquarters||New York City, New York|
Take 2 is a defunct American premium cable television network that was owned by Home Box Office, Inc., then a subsidiary of the Time-Life division of Time Inc., which operated from April to September 1979. Marketed at a family audience, the channel's programming consisted of recent and older theatrically released motion pictures.
In April 1979, HBO launched Take 2, the channel's first attempt at a companion premium service. Developed at the request of HBO's affiliate cable providers to meet consumer demand for an additional pay television offering, Take 2 was designed as a lower-priced mini-pay service aimed at family audiences (similar to the present-day HBO Family), and devoid of R-rated theatrical films. The format was intended to cater to prospective customers who were reluctant to pay for an HBO subscription because of its cost and the potentially objectionable content in some of its programming.
Slow subscriber growth and difficulties leveraging wide cable carriage forced the shutdown of Take 2 in the Summer of 1979. After analyzing the mistakes that caused the failure of Take 2, HBO developed a secondary, lower-cost "maxi-pay" service, Cinemax, which, following its August 1980 launch, experienced success with its mix of recent and older movies.
Festival is a defunct American premium cable television network that was owned by Home Box Office, Inc., then a subsidiary of Time Inc., which operated from 1986 to 1988. The channel's programming consisted of uncut and re-edited versions of recent older theatrically released motion pictures, along original music, comedy and nature specials sourced from the parent HBO channel aimed at a family audience.
On April 1, 1986, HBO began test-marketing Festival on six cable systems owned by then-sister company American Television and Communications Corporation. It was aimed at older audiences who objected to programming containing violence and sexual situations on other premium services, television viewers that did not already have cable service, and basic cable subscribers with no existing subscription to a premium service, focusing classic and recent hit movies, documentaries, and HBO's original stand-up comedy, concert, nature and ice skating specials. Notably for a premium service, Festival aired re-edited R-rated movies intended to fit a PG rating. Festival ceased operations on December 31, 1988; Home Box Office, Inc. cited the inability to expand distribution because of channel capacity limitations at most cable company headends for the closure of the channel. At the time of its shutdown, Festival had an estimated 30,000 subscribers, far below HBO's reach of 15.9 million subscribers and a distant last place in subscriber count among the eight American premium cable services in operation at the time.
HBO HD (originally called HBO HDTV from March 1999 until April 2006) is a high definition simulcast feed of HBO that broadcasts in the 1080i resolution format. HBO maintains high definition simulcast feeds of its main channel and all six multiplex channels. HBO HD is available on all major cable television providers including, among others, Charter Communications (including systems once owned by former HBO sister company Time Warner Cable); Comcast Xfinity (which, in 2016, began downconverting HBO, Cinemax and other cable channels transmitting in 1080i to 720p60); Cox Communications and Optimum; as well as DirecTV; AT&T U-verse; and Verizon FiOS. From the 2008 rollout of HD simulcasts for the HBO multiplex feeds until the mid-2010s, the majority of pay television providers that carried HBO HD generally offered only the main channel in high definition, with HD carriage of the multiplex channels varying by market. As of 2020[update], most providers transmit all seven HBO multiplex channels in HD, either on a dedicated HD channel tier separate from their SD assignments or as hybrid SD/HD feeds.
Home Box Office, Inc. announced plans to launch a high definition simulcast feed on June 12, 1997, with initial plans for a rollout to television providers as early as the Summer of 1998, when electronics manufacturers planned to begin retailing their initial line of HD-capable television sets. HBO began transmitting a high definition simulcast feed on March 6, 1999, becoming the first American cable television network to begin simulcast their programming in the format. For the first 23 months of its existence, the HD feed only transmitted theatrical films from the network's programming suppliers (initially accounting for about 45% of its available feature film output, expanding to around 60% by early 2001) and HBO's in-house original movies in the format, as existing widescreen prints of those films were already scalable in the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio and could readily be upconverted to HD resolution.
Original programming began to be made available in HD on January 14, 2001, when the network commenced a 13-week Sunday "encore" presentation of the second season of The Sopranos in remastered 1080i HD. (HBO had been requiring the producers of its original series to film their episodes in widescreen—subsequently downconverted for the standard definition feed—to fit 4:3 television screens since 1996, in order to future-proof them for remastering in HD.) The third-season premiere of the mob drama, "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood," on March 4 was the first first-run episode of an HBO series to be transmitted in high-definition from its initial telecast, with all subsequent episodes being delivered to HBO exclusively on HD videotape (and downcoverted for the main standard-definition feed). Bob Zitter, then the network's Senior Vice President of Technology Operations, disclosed to Multichannel News in January 2001 that HBO elected to delay offering its original series in high definition until there was both sustainable consumer penetration of high-definition television sets and wide accessibility of HDTV equipment on the retail market. Sports telecasts were upgraded to HD on September 25, 2004, with an HBO World Championship Boxing fight card headlined by Roy Jones Jr. and Glen Johnson. The network began transmitting its six multiplex channels in high definition on September 1, 2008, when DirecTV began offering HD simulcast feeds of HBO2, HBO Family, HBO Signature and HBO Latino.
HBO on Demand
HBO On Demand is HBO's companion subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service that is available at no additional cost to subscribers of the linear television service, who regularly pay a premium fee to pay television providers to receive access to the channel. VOD content from the network is also available on select virtual MVPD services (including sister properties AT&T TV, AT&T TV Now and AT&T WatchTV, and Hulu) and through HBO's dedicated OTT video channels on Apple TV Channels, Amazon Video Channels, and The Roku Channel. HBO on Demand offers theatrical feature films from HBO's distribution partners and original programming previously seen on the network (including weekly series, documentaries, sports magazine and documentary programs, and concert and stand-up comedy specials). The service's rotating program selection incorporates newer film titles and episodes that are added to the platform following their debut on the linear feed, as well as library content (including complete seasons of the network's past and present original programs).
HBO on Demand, the first SVOD service to be offered by an American premium service, launched on July 1, 2001 over then sister company Time Warner Cable's Columbia, South Carolina, system. The service was developed to allow HBO subscribers access to the channel's programming at their choosing, thereby reducing the frequency in which viewers were unable to find a program they prefer to watch and limiting cancellations to the service because of that issue. On January 3, 2011, HBO became the first pay television network to offer VOD content in 3D; initially available to linear HBO subscribers signed with Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Verizon FiOS, 3D content consisted of theatrical feature films available in the format.
In the United Kingdom, a domestic version of HBO on Demand was launched in 2015 to subscribers of IPTV provider TalkTalk TV, which provide HBO's program offerings through the provider's YouView set-top boxes via a standalone VOD subscription.
HBO Go is the network's on-demand streaming service for broadband subscribers of the linear HBO television service. It is accessible through play.hbogo.com, and through apps for Apple iOS and Apple TV devices; Android devices and Android TV; Amazon Fire TV; Chromecast; PlayStation consoles (PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4); Xbox One consoles; Roku devices; and most Samsung Smart TV models. Content available on HBO Go includes theatrically released films (sourced from the network's pay television contractual windows for recent studio releases and from library content agreements with film distributors) and HBO original programming (including scripted series, made-for-cable movies, comedy specials, documentaries, and sports documentary and magazine programs). HBO Go, along with companion service HBO Now and the upcoming HBO Max, does not provide live simulcasts of the seven linear HBO channels. (HBO and Cinemax are the only American premium television services not to include live network feeds in their proprietary streaming VOD platforms.)
Based on the prototype HBO on Broadband service that was originally launched in January 2008 to linear HBO subscribers of Time Warner Cable's Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin systems, HBO Go launched nationwide on February 18, 2010, initially available to existing HBO subscribers signed with Verizon FiOS. Initially carrying 1,000 hours of program content available for streaming in standard or high definition, the on-demand streaming service was conceived as a TV Everywhere platform marketed exclusively to existing subscribers of the linear HBO television service. (The HBO Go website and mobile apps, including its apps for streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV, and some video game consoles, require a password accompanying a linear HBO subscription by a participating television provider in order to access content on the service.)
HBO Now is an over-the-top (OTT) subscription streaming service that provides on-demand access to HBO's library of original programming and theatrical films, and is marketed independent of a pay television subscription to the linear HBO service as a standalone platform targeting cord cutters. HBO Now is available online and through apps for Apple iOS and Apple TV devices; Android tablets, phones and Android TV devices; Amazon Fire TV; Xbox consoles (Xbox 360 and Xbox One); and PlayStation consoles (PlayStation 3 and later); and as a premium add-on through Sling TV, Amazon Prime Video, AT&T TV and Hulu.
On October 15, 2014, HBO announced plans to launch an OTT subscription streaming service in 2015, which would be distributed as a standalone offering that does not require an existing television subscription in order to access content. The service, HBO Now, was unveiled on March 9, 2015, and officially launched one month later on April 7. The service was initially available via Apple Inc. to Apple TV and iOS devices for a three-month exclusivity period following its formal launch, before becoming available for subscription through other participating Internet service providers. Available for $15 per month, HBO Now is identical to HBO Go in terms of content and features. New episodes of HBO series are made available for streaming on the initial airdate, and usually uploaded at their normal airtime, of their original broadcast on the main linear HBO channel. Apple's App Store features promotions offering free one-month trials or other incentives to subscribe to HBO Now, as the program is in partnership with Apple Inc. and Apple TV. By February 2019, subscribership of HBO Now subscribers had reached over 8 million customers.
HBO Max is an over-the-top subscription streaming service operated by the WarnerMedia Direct, LLC subsidiary of WarnerMedia Entertainment. Built around HBO's programming, the service also offers supplementary original programming and library content from Warner Bros. Studios, WarnerMedia Entertainment television properties and third-party content providers. The service is available online, through participating broadband providers (including existing HBO subscribers of AT&T-owned platforms AT&T TV, DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and AT&T Mobility and subscribers of HBO Go and HBO Now, who, by way of their shared AT&T ownership, were allowed access to HBO Max at launch for no additional charge), and through apps for Android tablets, phones and Android TV devices, Apple iOS and Apple TV devices, Roku devices and Hulu.
On October 10, 2018, WarnerMedia announced that it would launch an over-the-top streaming service in late 2019, featuring content from the company's various entertainment brands. In mid-May 2019, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson indicated that the planned service would utilize the HBO brand, and would also tie into HBO's existing relationships with cable operators as subscribers of the linear HBO television service would have access to the then-unnamed platform as would broadband providers who could purchase the service through third-party sellers. At the time, a beta rollout was expected in the fourth quarter of 2019 and a full launch was projected in the first quarter of 2020.
On July 9, 2019, WarnerMedia announced the streaming service would be named HBO Max. ("Max" has been a trademark and on-air shorthand for Cinemax since its 1980 launch, resulting in some confusion between the co-owned premium and streaming services since the announcement of the latter's HBO Max branding.) The service HBO Max would launch in the Spring of 2020 (later targeted for May 27 of that year). Also announced at that time was that, through Warner Bros.'s ownership of the series, Friends (which had been available on Netflix) would migrate to HBO Max upon the service's launch; Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine and Greg Berlanti had also signed production deals with the service to develop supplementary original programming (to be branded as "Max Originals"), which will be co-produced by Warner Max, a production unit formed as a joint venture between Home Box Office, Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment to develop content for HBO Max. With HBO Max's launch, WarnerMedia began phasing out the legacy HBO Go and HBO Now platforms, and converted existing subscribers of those services to the HBO Max app on all partner platforms.
HBO's programming schedule currently consists largely of theatrically released feature films—which occupy the majority of its daily schedule—and original series primarily aimed at adults (including, as of April 2020[update], dramas such as Euphoria, Succession and Westworld, and comedies such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Insecure, Barry, Los Espookys and High Maintenance as well as topical satires Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher). In addition, HBO also carries documentary films, sports-centric documentary and magazine series, occasional original made-for-TV movies and specials (the latter consisting of concert and stand-up comedy programs), and short-form behind-the-scenes specials centered mainly on theatrical films (either running in their initial theatrical or HBO/Cinemax broadcast window).
HBO primarily airs most of its original programs over its main channel after 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time, although—depending in part on the day's programming schedule—it airs original series, made-for-cable movies and certain documentaries (typically excluding those containing graphic violent or sexual content) during the daytime hours; these programs also air at various times on HBO's multiplex channels. HBO Signature, HBO Family, HBO Comedy and HBO Zone also each carry archived HBO programming, airing repeats of former original series and specials dating back to the 1990s.
HBO has long maintained a policy not to run R-rated films on its primary channel before prime time. Originally applying to programs airing between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time, this policy (which may have once stemmed from HBO's availability on analog cable tiers, while its multiplex channels generally required a digital cable subscription or at least scrambling) remains in place—albeit now in a more watered-down structure—as of 2020[update], despite the incorporation of R-rated films onto their daytime schedules of other premium services starting in the mid-1980s and the later existence of the V-chip. The policy was also applied to all TV-MA rated programs after the TV Parental Guidelines were implemented on January 1, 1997; however the main HBO channel began airing a limited amount of TV-MA rated original series, movies and documentaries that contain some strong profanity and violence, but are largely devoid of nudity, and graphic violent or sexual content on weekends before 8:00 p.m. Eastern in 2010.
HBO began occasionally rebroadcasting R-rated films as early as 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time in 2012, as part of its Sunday rebroadcast of the prior Saturday's movie premiere telecast, depending on the length of the film and the scheduling of any HBO original series that air after it. In 2017, the channel expanded its carriage of R-rated films to as early as 4:00 p.m. (occasionally, even as early as 2:00 p.m.) Eastern Time, regardless of the day but still on a periodic basis. Outside of HBO Family, which does not run any programs with either a TV-MA or R rating, HBO's other multiplex channels will air TV-MA and R-rated programming during morning and afternoon time periods. HBO also does not typically allow most NC-17 rated films to be aired on the primary channel or its multiplex channels.
HBO pioneered the free preview concept—which has since become a standard in the pay television industry—in 1973, as part of a plan to increase subscribership of the channel. Cable providers were originally granted permission to carry HBO on a local origination channel in order for those who are not subscribers the ability to view the channel for a limited number of days; with the advent of digital cable and satellite, providers now unencrypt the designated slots of each HBO channel during preview periods. Until the mid-1990s, on-air promotions featured between programs were replaced (and later, merely interspersed) with interstitials featuring on-air hosts asking viewers to subscribe to the service. Although participation was voluntary, preview events are carried by most major and some smaller pay television providers (the number of providers and the providers that choose to offer the event varies depending on the given free preview period, and may not be carried on all systems owned by a multiple system operator unless at the provider's discretion); HBO currently offers between three and five preview events each year to participating providers (which are normally scheduled to coincide with the premiere of a new or returning original series, and in the past, a high-profile special or feature film).
The network also produces short segments promoting new movies with the cooperation of the film studios that hold releasing rights to the projects. These usually consist of either interstitial segments providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of an upcoming/recently released film, with interviews with the actors and principal crew, or red carpet coverage, which are almost universally produced by studios with which HBO and Cinemax maintain exclusive premium television broadcast rights. Depending on their length or content, these are either aired as part of the feature segment HBO News (formerly titled HBO Entertainment News from 1988 to 2007), which airs during extended promotional breaks between programs and runs between three and five minutes, or as part of HBO First Look, a series of documentary-style interstitial specials (usually running 15 to 20 minutes in length, with no set schedule) that debuted in 1992. These segments, particularly episodes of First Look, have also often been included as bonus features on DVD and Blu-ray releases of the films that were profiled (many of which have aired on HBO and Cinemax once they reached their pay-cable distribution windows), though broadcasts of these interstitials have begun to be reduced to only a few episodes per year as HBO has focused on its higher-profile, long-form original programming instead and studios have internally produced behind-the-scenes featurettes for their films for exclusive physical and digital media release.
During the earlier years of the network, HBO aired various interstitial segments in-between films and other programming, originally billed as Something Short and Special. Around 1980, InterMissions, as the interstitials were now called, were bannered in two groupings: Video Jukebox, a showcase of music videos from various artists (these segments were eventually separated from the other intermission shorts and gained various longform spinoffs, also titled as Video Jukebox or variants thereof), and Special, which showcased short films. By 1984, the short segments had largely been reduced to comedic short films (originally named HBO Comedy Shorts and then as HBO Short Takes, which used a set of different animated intros) and HBO Shorts for Kids, comsisting of youth-targeted live action and animated short films seen largely before and during family-oriented programming. By the end of the 1980s, intermission shorts had largely vanished from the channel.
During the "Executive Actions" symposium held by The Washington Post and George Washington University in April 2015 (shortly after the launch of the HBO Now streaming service), then-HBO CEO Richard Plepler said that he does not want the network to be akin to Netflix in which users "binge watch" its television shows and film content, saying "I don't think it would have been a great thing for HBO or our brand if that had been gobbled up in the first week[...] I think it was very exciting for the viewer to have that mystery held out for an extended period of time." Pleper cited that he feels that binge watching does not correlate with the culture of HBO and HBO watchers.
Since the early 1980s, HBO has produced a variety of original programming, including dramatic and comedic series, in addition to its slate of theatrical films. Most of these programs are intended for adults (and, with limited exceptions, are typically assigned TV-MA ratings), often featuring—with such content varying by program—high amounts of profanity, violence, sexual themes and/or nudity that would be much more difficult to get on basic cable or over-the-air broadcast channels, because of objections from sponsors and the risk of them pulling or refusing to sell their advertising, depending on the objectionable material included in the program that the sponsor Is comfortable placing their advertising. (Incidentally since the early 2000s, some ad-supported basic cable channels—like FX and Comedy Central—have incorporated stronger profanity, somewhat more pervasive violence and sexual themes and/or occasional nudity in their original programs, similar to that included in original series on HBO and other premium services, with relatively limited advertiser issues.)
Mainly because it is not beholden to the preferences of advertisers, HBO has long been regarded in the entertainment industry for letting program creators maintain full creative autonomy over their projects, allowing them to depict gritty subject matter that—prior to basic cable channels venturing into including similar content in their programming and the proliferation of streaming services also following the model set by HBO and other pay cable services—had not usually been shown on other television platforms.
Some of its original programs, however, have been aimed at families or children, primarily those produced before 2001 (through its original programming division and third-party producers) and from 2016 to 2020 (under its agreement with Sesame Workshop), including Sesame Street, Babar, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, Dear America and The Little Lulu Show. Beginning in 2001, most of the family- or kid-oriented programs migrated to HBO Family, with a limited amount of newer family-oriented series being produced for either the primary channel or HBO Family since. (HBO Family continued to maintain a limited slate of original children's programming until 2003.) In a notable example, HBO ventured back into children's programming with its acquisition of the first-run and streaming rights to Sesame Street, a long-running children's television series that had previously aired on PBS for the vast majority of its run, in the aforementioned deal with Sesame Workshop that was announced in August 2015; the migration of Sesame Street and other Sesame Workshop series from the linear television service to the streaming-based HBO Max in 2020, was agreed upon in a renewal of WarnerMedia's content agreement with the studio reached in October 2019.
Music programming is occasionally produced in the form of concert specials, featuring major recording artists performing in front of a live audience. One of HBO's first successful specials was The Bette Midler Show in 1976, which launched the Standing Room Only concert series. For a time in the early 1980s, HBO produced a concert special almost every other month, featuring major music stars such as Boy George and The Who. After MTV's successful rollout in 1981, the Standing Room Only series began to produce fewer concerts, but focused more on "world class" music events featuring artists such as Elton John, Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand, as well as fundraisers such as Farm Aid. In recent years, concert specials have become less of a presence among HBO's television specials, having mainly been limited to an occasional marquee event or via the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's annual induction ceremony.
The channel also produces stand-up comedy specials—formerly broadcast under the On Location, HBO Comedy Hour and HBO Comedy Half-Hour banners—which usually premiere on select Saturday nights throughout the year in late prime time (typically following its Saturday movie premiere presentation). The On Location comedy specials, which presented a stand-up comedian's performance in its entirety and uncut, began in 1975 with a special starring Robert Klein. The first of twelve concert specials televised by the network featuring George Carlin aired on HBO in 1977 as part of On Location, featuring Carlin's first televised performance of his classic routine, "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". As other cable channels incorporated comedy specials due to their inexpensive format, HBO began to model its strategy with its comedy specials after its music programming, focusing on a few specials each year featuring popular comedians.
HBO also produces its own made-for-cable movies through HBO Films, which, since 2008, has maintained an exclusive pay cable rights agreement with HBO to broadcast the unit's in-house theatrical productions distributed by sister company Warner Bros. Pictures and its subsidiaries. HBO ventured into production of original television films in 1983, through the formation of HBO Premiere Films. Originally developed to produce original made-for-cable movies and miniseries with higher budgets and production values than other television films, The film division began producing original movies for the network in 1983 with the debut of The Terry Fox Story. Differing from most television films produced for cable television, most of the original movies produced by HBO have featured major film actors over the years, ranging from James Stewart to Michael Douglas. The unit—which would be rechristened HBO Pictures in 1985—expanded beyond its telefilm slate, which was scaled back to focus on independent film production in 1984. HBO Films was formed in October 1999 through the consolidation of HBO Pictures and HBO NYC Productions (originally created as HBO Showcase in 1986, and in its restructured form, had also occasionally produced drama series for the network).
As of May 2020,[update] HBO and sister channel Cinemax maintain exclusive first-run film licensing agreements with sister company Warner Bros. (including content from subsidiaries Warner Animation Group, New Line Cinema since 2005, and Castle Rock Entertainment), 20th Century Studios since 1979 (including subsidiaries 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios, New Regency Productions, and Searchlight Pictures), Universal Pictures since 2003 (including content from subsidiaries Universal Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Working Title Films, Savoy Pictures, Illumination Entertainment and Focus Features), Summit Entertainment since June 1, 2013, and DreamWorks since 1996 (excluding films that DreamWorks co-produces in conjunction with Touchstone Pictures, with rights to live action co-productions by the two studios being held by Showtime).
The first-run film output agreement with Fox was renewed by HBO for ten years on August 15, 2012 (with a provision allowing the studio to release its films through digital platforms such as iTunes and Amazon during a film's term of license with the channel for the first time). While The Walt Disney Company fully acquired 20th Century Fox in March 2019, Disney maintains an output deal with its in-house streaming services Disney+ and Hulu, whereas any decision affecting the future of Fox's contractual agreement with HBO has yet to be formally announced as of May 2020[update]. The Universal output deal was renewed for ten years on January 6, 2013 (with the exception of certain animated films that HBO can offer to pass over to Netflix). The first-run output deal with Summit Entertainment was renewed by HBO for an additional four years on March 1, 2016.
HBO also maintains sub-run agreements—covering runs of films that have already received broadcast or syndicated television airings—to provide theatrical films from Paramount Pictures (including content from subsidiaries The Cannon Group, Carolco Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies and Republic Pictures, all for films released prior to 2011), Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (including content from subsidiaries Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, and formerly owned subsidiary Miramax), Sony Pictures Entertainment (including content from subsidiaries Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Embassy Pictures, Morgan Creek, Screen Gems, Revolution Studios, and former HBO sister company TriStar Pictures, all for films released prior to 2005), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including content from subsidiaries United Artists, Orion Pictures and The Samuel Goldwyn Company), Lions Gate Entertainment (for films released prior to 2010), and New World Pictures.
Films to which HBO holds the pay cable rights will usually also run on Cinemax during their licensing term, although some feature films from the aforementioned studios with broadcast rights agreements covering the two services will make their premium television debut on HBO several weeks before their premiere on Cinemax and vice versa.
Former first-run contracts
During the early years of premium cable, the major American movie studios often sold the broadcast rights to an individual feature film title to multiple pay television services—including HBO, Showtime and The Movie Channel (and later, Cinemax), the largest pay channels of the time—resulting, at times, in duplicative film telecasts amongst the competing services in the same month. HBO began purchasing exclusive rights to broadcast individual films in the late 1970s; these agreements gradually evolved to encompass exclusive film output deals (now the standard among North American premium channels), under which a pay service agrees to multi-year licensing of movies released by a partnering film studio.
HBO signed its first major exclusive film output deal with Columbia Pictures in the early 1980s. During the 1980s, HBO also held the pay cable rights to film releases from TriStar Pictures (whose output deal with HBO, as well as that with Columbia Pictures, expired after 2004), New World Pictures and Orion Pictures; (As of May 2020[update], rival Starz maintains an exclusive deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment currently expected to run until 2021, pending any upcoming renewal, to televise all newer films from Columbia and TriStar.)
In July 1987, HBO signed a deal to broadcast films released by Paramount Pictures between mid-1988 and late 1997; rival Showtime assumed the pay television rights to Paramount-released films in 1998, and held them until 2008, when the pay-cable rights for the studio's released transferred to the upstart Epix (originally a joint venture between Paramount and its corporate parent Viacom, Lionsgate and now-sole owner Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) when that network launched in October 2009. From 2004 to 2010, HBO held the rights to live-action film releases from DreamWorks Pictures; the distribution rights to DreamWorks productions transferred from Paramount Pictures to Touchstone Pictures in January 2011, concurrent with the move of the studio's films to Showtime (which maintained a distribution agreement with the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group at the time). HBO's contract with DreamWorks Animation—originally signed concurrent with and when the company operated under DreamWorks Pictures—expired in December 2012, at which time Netflix assumed pay television rights to that studio's releases.
HBO broadcasts sports-related magazine and documentary series produced by HBO Sports, an in-house production division that also formerly produced a limited amount of sports event programming for the channel. From 1991 to 2018, HBO—through its parent holding company Home Box Office, Inc.—also operated HBO PPV (formerly TVKO), which distributed and organized marquee boxing events for pay-per-view. HBO Sports has been headed by several well-known television executives over the years, including its founder Steve Powell (later head of programming at ESPN), Dave Meister (later head of the Tennis Channel), Seth Abraham (later head of MSG Network), and Ross Greenburg.
HBO's first sports broadcast was of a New York Rangers-Vancouver Canucks NHL game, transmitted to a Service Electric cable system in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on November 8, 1972; the channel continued to air NHL hockey games through the mid-1970s. HBO was long known for its telecasts of boxing matches (which usually aired on Saturday nights every two to three weeks on average), including those shown on its flagship sports program HBO World Championship Boxing. (Prior to the elimination of live boxing on the channel in 2018, HBO scheduled the Pacific Time Zone broadcast of its Saturday film premieres later in the evening when a live special—either a boxing card or concert special—was scheduled to air that particular weekend, with the special being shown after the movie on the Eastern Time Zone feed.) On September 30, 1975, the "Thrilla in Manila" boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier aired on HBO and was the first program on the pay cable network to be broadcast via satellite.
In 1973, HBO aired a World Wide Wrestling Federation event from Madison Square Garden, headlined by a match between George Steele and Pedro Morales. During the mid-1970s, HBO aired several basketball games from the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association (notably, the last ABA Finals game in 1976, prior to the latter league's merger with the NBA, between the New York Nets and the Denver Nuggets). HBO also aired Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) events during the 1970s; Dick Stockton served as the play-by-play announcer and Skee Foremsky acted as the color commentator for the bowling telecasts. In 1975, HBO began airing coverage of Wimbledon; it held contractual rights to coverage of the tennis tournament through 1999, when it lost the rights to sister network TNT (then-owned by Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System subsidiary; TNT was folded into WarnerMedia Entertainment following AT&T's acquisition of Warner's assets).
HBO expanded its boxing slate in September 1996, with the launch of HBO Boxing After Dark, a program which showcases fights from up-and-coming boxing talents. The network's boxing franchises expanded to HBO Latino in January 2003, with the premiere of Oscar De La Hoya Presenta Boxeo De Oro, a showcase of up-and-coming boxers represented by the De La Hoya-founded Golden Boy Promotions. A second boxing series for HBO Latino, Generación Boxeo, premiered on the multiplex channel in April 2006.
HBO has offered other sports programming in the form of documentary- and interview-based weekly series. In 1977, HBO premiered the channel's longest-running program, and its first sports-related documentary and analysis series Inside the NFL, featuring game reviews of National Football League games from the previous week of the league season as well as interviews with players, coaches and team management; HBO canceled the program in February 2008 after 30 seasons (the program was later acquired by rival premium channel Showtime, which began airing the series in September 2008). The network would build upon Inside the NFL with debut of additional sports talk and documentary programs: Race for the Pennant (concerning the Major League Baseball season, running from 1978 to 1992), Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (which debuted in 1995), On the Record with Bob Costas (which debuted in 2001, and was revamped as Costas Now in 2005, ending in 2009), and Joe Buck Live (which ran for one season in 2009). In 2001, HBO and NFL Films began to jointly produce the documentary series Hard Knocks, which follows an individual NFL team each season during training camp and their preparations for the upcoming football season.
On September 27, 2018, HBO announced it would discontinue its boxing telecasts after 45 years, following its last televised match on October 27, marking the end of live sports on the network. (Two additional World Championship Boxing/Boxing After Dark cards actually followed that originally scheduled final broadcast, airing respectively on November 24 and December 8, 2018.) HBO's decision to bow out of boxing telecasts was due to factors that included the influx of sports-based streaming services (such as DAZN and ESPN+) and issues with promoters that hampered its ability to acquire high-profile fight cards, and resulting declining ratings and loss of interest in the sport among HBO's subscribers. Also factoring into the move was HBO parent WarnerMedia's then-recent ownership transfer to AT&T, and the network's efforts to focus around its scripted programming; network executives were of the opinion that "HBO [was] not a sports network." Since then, although it no longer produces sporting event telecasts, HBO Sports has continued to exist as a production unit for the network's sports magazine shows and documentarie.
HBO maintains an in-house documentary production and distribution unit, HBO Documentary Films, which releases between eight and ten documentaries per year for the network and provides limited theatrical distribution of certain films prior to their initial broadcast on HBO's linear television and streaming services.
The network's first successful documentary was the six-part 1979 miniseries Time Was, a Dick Cavett-hosted retrospective looking at an individual decade—from the 1920s up to the 1970s—over the course of each episode. 1981's She's Nobody's Baby—produced in conjunction with Ms. magazine—traced the evolution of the societal role of American women during the 20th Century; the special earned HBO its first Peabody Award, the first to be won by a pay television service and the first of many HBO documentaries to receive the prestigious award. HBO also aired informational documentaries produced in partnership with Consumer Reports starting in 1980, detailing information on subjects encompassing product safety, personal finance and health. One such documentary, AIDS: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know...But Were Afraid to Ask, which aired in 1987 at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., was hosted by then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and provided factual information on the AIDS and HIV viruses.
In 2004, a film crew with Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, guided by human rights activist Ansar Burney, conducted a hidden camera investigation into slavery and torture in secret desert camps in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where boys younger than five years of age were trained in camel racing. This half-hour investigative report exposed a carefully hidden child slavery ring that bought or kidnapped hundreds of young boys in Pakistan and Bangladesh, who were then forced to become camel jockeys in the UAE. It also questioned the sincerity of U.S. diplomatic pressure on the UAE, an ally to the United States, to comply with the country's ban on children under age 15 from participating in camel racing. The documentary won a Sports Emmy Award in 2004 for "Outstanding Sports Journalism" and an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award in 2006 for "Outstanding Broadcast Journalism", as well as bringing worldwide attention to the plight of child camel jockeys in the Middle East and helping the Ansar Burney Trust convince the governments of Qatar and the UAE to end the use of children in the sport.
In 2006, film director Spike Lee made a two-part four-hour documentary on Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Also in 2006, documentary artist Lauren Greenfield directed Thin, a feature-length film about four young women struggling with eating disorders seeking treatment at the Renfrew Clinic in Florida. 2008 saw the U.S. television premiere of Baghdad High, a documentary that depicted the lives of four boys attending a high school in Baghdad, Iraq, over the course of one year through a video diary filmed by the boys themselves using cameras provided to them for the project.
In November 2008, HBO paid low seven figures for U.S. television rights to Amy Rice and Alicia Sams's documentary, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama. The film—which received limited theatrical release in New York City and Los Angeles, and aired on HBO in November 2009—covered Obama's 2006 trip to Africa, his presidential primary campaign, the 2008 general election and his first Presidential inauguration. In November 2012, HBO aired the four-part documentary, Witness, which devoted each part to one of four conflict regions—Juarez, Libya, South Sudan and Rio de Janeiro—as covered by a team of photojournalists based in those regions. On March 28, 2013, the channel premiered the Alexandra Pelosi-directed Fall to Grace, about the infidelity scandal that led to the 2011 resignation of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and his related coming out as gay.
In February 2015, HBO premiered a six-part documentary from Andrew Jarecki, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, chronicling the mystery surrounding the New York real estate heir's alleged involvement in the unsolved 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie Durst; the 2000 execution-style killing of writer Susan Berman; and the 2001 death and dismemberment of Durst's neighbor, Morris Black. The miniseries gained broader exposure after Durst was arrested on first-degree murder charges in relation to Berman's death on March 14, 2015 (one day prior to the docuseries' finale). The evidence leading to his arrest included an envelope left by Berman after her murder and provided to the filmmakers for analysis by her stepson, Sareb Kaufman, with misspelled block letter handwriting matching an anonymous envelope sent to police in December 2000 to alert them to Berman's murder, and a rambling apparent confession by Durst—unaware that the microphone attached to him for his interview with Jarecki was still recording—to the murders of all three victims.
HBO has also produced recurring documentary series, among the earliest and most notable being America Undercover, a banner that also spawned regular sub-series Real Sex (a late night magazine-formatted series of specials that ran from 1992 to 2009, featuring frank explorations on a variety of mainstream and non-mainstream sexual matters) and Autopsy (a series of specials that aired between 1994 and 2008, in which forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden provides analysis on criminal, suspicious and health-related death cases). One of the most notable America Undercover specials was 1985's Soldiers in Hiding, focusing on homeless veterans of the Vietnam War living in the wilderness, which won the first Academy Award for a cable television service in the Best Documentary category (although HBO has had some of its documentaries enter limited theatrical release to qualify for Oscar nominations in later years). HBO is also noted for its Sports of the 20th Century documentary brand. One of its most notable documentaries from that series was Dare to Dream, a 2005 film about the U.S. Women's Soccer Team and the roles of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett and Julie Foudy in the team's rise to prominence in sports.
Through a partnership with Vice Media, the network ran a monthly docuseries, Vice, featuring in-depth reports from host/creator/Vice magazine co-founder Shane Smith and a team of correspondents investigating political and cultural topics and utilizing an immersionist filmmaking style. Running for six seasons from April 2013 to December 2018, the show won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Informational Series or Special" in 2014. Vice was cancelled on February 1, 2019, as part of a broader corporate reorganization at Vice Media; a companion daily news show, Vice News Tonight, was cancelled on June 10, 2019, when HBO announced it would be terminating its seven–year partnership with the company. (The Vice docuseries moved to Showtime and Vice News Tonight moved to Vice on TV in March 2020.)
The HBO brand name has been licensed by Time Warner/WarnerMedia for various products based around the channel's programming.
In 2005, HBO entered into an agreement with Cingular Wireless to establish HBO Mobile, a pre-smartphone era mobile subscription web service that provided information on HBO's original programming (including episode guides), mobile wallpapers and ringtones voiced by cast members of the channel's series. (HBO Mobile also operated a similar service, HBO Family Mobile, which offered full-length episodes of the channel's children's programming.) Also in 2005, Mattel and Screenlife released a custom version of the DVD interactive game Scene It?, featuring trivia relating to HBO's original series.
The original HBO logo imaging, used from the channel's November 1972 launch until the Spring of 1975, consisted of a minimalist lighted marquee surrounding a custom mixed-caps typeface rendering of the "Home Box Office" name and an image of a ticket stub, the former and latter signifying the channel's film and event program offerings.
The initial logo was replaced in March 1975 with the original iteration of the current HBO current logo—co-designed by Bemis Balkind and then Time-Life art director Betty Brugger—consisting simplistically of an uppercase bold "HBO" text, with the 'O' maintaining a bullseye-like appearance. (In the original design, the 'O' partially obscured the right third of the 'B', giving it the unintentional resemblance of an "E".) The Balkind-Brugger logo was modified in April 1980, redrawing the 'B' as a full letterform attaching the 'O'. (The 1975 and 1980 versions both were used concurrently in on-air network identifications and certain promotions until the former was phased out of usage in January 1981.) The simplicity of the logo makes it fairly easy to duplicate, something HBO has taken advantage of many times over the years.
The logo would become familiarized to television viewers through a program opening sequence, often nicknamed "HBO in Space", which was produced by New York City production firm Liberty Studios in late 1981 and used on-air in some capacity from September 20, 1982 to September 30, 1997. The original 70-second version begins with a panning shot of, depending on daypart, a family or a married couple sitting down to watch HBO on their apartment's television set. (This was replaced by a dark cloudscape that faded into the city sequence in December 1983.) Panning out the window, it transitions to a continuous fly-through shot (recorded in stop motion) over a custom-built model cityscape and countryside, leading to a pan shot towards a star-filled sky (the latter image begins a shorter version of the sequence). A starburst—or "stargate effect"—then unveils a chrome-plated, flying HBO logo. As it rotates toward the "O" in the logo, colored light streaks encircle the side of it, sparkling to reveal, in a partially animated segment, its interior and a silver axis in the area of the dot; more lights race counter-clockwise inside the "O"'s inner wall, revealing the type of program being presented in block text—most commonly, "HBO Feature Presentation" for movies or differing titles ("Standing Room Only", "HBO Special", "On Location", "HBO Family Showcase", etc.) for specials, series and film premieres—before the sequence fades to black after more light streaks sweep and shine across the text.
Most variants of this sequence were discontinued in 1986; the feature presentation, "Saturday Night Movie" and "Sunday Night Movie" variants remained thereafter. (The latter two versions were discontinued in 1993, while the "Feature Presentation" variant was relegated exclusively for films leading off the prime time lineup.) Variants of the intro are available on YouTube, including one uploaded to HBO's official YouTube channel, and a seldom-used "World Premiere Presentation" variant was later featured in the intro of the 2019 HBO stand-up comedy special Dan Soder: Son of a Gary. The accompanying fanfare—originally composed for Score Productions by Ferdinand Jay Smith III of Jay Advertising, who adapted the theme from the Scherzo movement of Antonín Dvořák's Ninth Symphony—eventually became an identification signature heard in interstitial music used in HBO's feature presentation and programming bumpers as well as network IDs beginning in 1998, instrumentally arranged in variants from horns to piano over the years.
Another well-known HBO program opener, the Pacific Data Images-designed "Neon Lights", began non-prime-time movie presentations from November 1, 1986, to September 30, 1997. The sequence, set to a synth and electric guitar theme, begins with a heliotrope HBO logo on a film strip that rotates out of view, as blue, green and pink light rays penetrate through it and several glowing CG slots that follow, before a ray reaches a field of varied-color spheres that zoom outward to reveal a light purple HBO logo, which is overlaid by a cursive magenta "Movie" script against a black and purple sphere-dotted background. After the Liberty and PDI sequences were retired, from September 1997 to September 1999, a series of six-second feature presentation bumpers—designed by Pittard Sullivan—showing the network logo in different settings (such as appearing as a fish in water, as a celebrity arriving at a film premiere in a limousine, chasing after a man against changing backgrounds, and as a large neon sign on a building rooftop) were used; the bumpers were also included in network IDs from 1997 to 2002, and in programming bumpers until 2000.
A CGI feature presentation bumper—also designed by Pittard Sullivan—harkening the 1982 intro sequence was used from September 1999 to April 1, 2011. It commenced outside a movie theater facade (featuring a marquee that reads "HBO Feature Presentation"), following a trek through a country road, a snowy, cliffside mountain road, and a desert road (respectively passing under an electrical tower, tunnel and tanker truck shaped in each of the HBO logotype letters); this leads into a metropolitan neighborhood, jumping above a bridge in its downtown area, shifting to a slower panning flyover shot above a lake shaped after the HBO logo outlined by spotlights before a 3D animation of the "Feature Presentation" text forms. The closing segment of the sequence was clipped for an abbreviated variant that preceded movies aired outside of weekend prime time.
After a six-year run of a shorter, minimalist sequence by Jesse Vartanian (who also designed an accompanying graphics package introduced alongside it across the HBO channels on April 2, 2011, featuring faint light auroras against a black background and the HBO logo and "Feature Presentation" text, another bumper sequence paying homage to the 1982 opening—designed by Imaginary Forces—was implemented on March 4, 2017. The live-action/CGI sequence is set inside a metropolis within the HBO letterforms, showing multiple families gathering in their homes to watch an HBO film; the last two living room segments of the sequence feature brief glimpses of the HBO starship segment from the 1982 intro. (An eight-second variant, beginning at the reveal of the HBO metropolis letterform, is used for most film presentations, other than the Saturday movie premieres.)
Unlike other pay television networks (including the multiplex channels of sister channel Cinemax), HBO does not brand its programming with on-screen logo bugs of the main network and each respective multiplex channel—although its multiplex channels do display logo bugs during promotional breaks between programs.
Since 1991, Home Box Office, Inc. has overseen expansions of the HBO service into international markets, establishing regionalized channels in five continents (including dedicated services in Brazil, Canada, Eastern Europe, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia) as well as several distribution partnerships to syndicate HBO programs to other broadcast, cable channels and video on demand services outside the United States, such as:
|Russia||Amedia Home of HBO|
|MENA region||OSN Home of HBO|
|Republic of Ireland||Sky Atlantic|
|United Kingdom||Sky Atlantic|
|San Marino||Sky Atlantic|
|the Netherlands||Ziggo||Video on demand service|
|Denmark||HBO Nordic||Video on demand service|
|Norway||HBO Nordic||Video on demand service|
|Sweden||HBO Nordic||Video on demand service|
|Finland||HBO Nordic||Video on demand service|
|Latvia||HBO Baltics||Video on demand service|
|Estonia||HBO Baltics||Video on demand service|
|Lithuania||HBO Baltics||Video on demand service|
|Sub-Sahara Africa||M-net EDGE|
|Indian subcontinent||Hotstar||Video on demand service owned by Star India, which streams the HBO Originals content|
|Portugal||TVCine||TV cable network|
|Portugal||HBO Portugal||Video on demand service|
|Romania||HBO Romania||Cable TV network & Video on demand service|
|Malta||Melita More||Cable TV network|
|Gozo||Melita More||Cable TV network|
|Belgium||Be 1||Cable TV channel which also provides on demand service, in French|
|Australia||FOX Showcase||Cable TV channel provided on Foxtel|
|New Zealand||SoHo||TV satellite network|
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