Home Box Office (HBO) is an American premium cable and satellite television network that is owned by Time Warner through its respective flagship company Home Box Office, Inc. Programming featured on the network consists primarily of theatrically released motion pictures and original television series, along with made-for-cable movies and documentaries, boxing matches, and occasional stand-up comedy and concert specials.
HBO is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service (basic or premium) in the United States, having been in operation since November 8, 1972. In 2016, HBO had an adjusted operating income of US$1.93 billion, compared to the US$1.88 billion it accrued in 2015. HBO has 49 million subscribers in the United States and 130 million worldwide as of 2016. The network provides seven 24-hour multiplex channels, including HBO Comedy, HBO Latino, HBO Signature, and HBO Family. It launched the streaming service HBO Now in April 2015 and has over 2 million subscribers in the United States as of February 2017.
As of July 2015, 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 (Encore, owned by Starz Inc., reaches 40.54 million pay television households as of July 2015). In addition to its U.S. subscriber base, HBO distributes content in at least 151 countries, with approximately 130 million subscribers 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 of its channels together in a single package). However, a law imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that cable providers allow subscribers to get just "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 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 through digital media; the channel maintains HBO Go, a video on demand streaming service available as a website and slate of mobile apps exclusively to existing subscribers of the linear channel suite and a separate, but similar standalone service, HBO Now, which launched in April 2015 as a subscription streaming platform that does not require a subscription to the HBO television service.
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, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and True Blood) air on over-the-air 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 between $15 and $20 depending on the provider), 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 – won a franchise 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, and eventually becoming the then Time Warner Cable which merged into Charter Communications in 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. This was partly because the tall buildings in the city blocked television signals and partly because the New York City Council had required that all electrical and telecommunication wiring be laid underground to limit service disruptions during bad weather, an ordinance that was passed after a blizzard in 1888 damaged telephone and telegraph lines in the area. In that same year, Time-Life, Inc. purchased a 20% stake in Dolan's company.
Sterling Manhattan consistently lost money during its first six years of operation, because of the expense of running cable underground and into buildings throughout Manhattan (as much as $300,000 per mile) and a limited subscriber base, 400 of them by 1971. In the summer of 1971, while on a family vacation in France, Charles Dolan began to think of ideas to make Sterling Manhattan profitable. He came up with the concept for a cable-originated television service, called "The Green Channel." Dolan later presented his idea to Time-Life management; though satellite distribution seemed only a distant possibility at the time, he persuaded Time-Life to back him on the project.
To gauge whether consumers would be interested in subscribing to a pay 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; 4% of those polled in a second survey, conducted by an independent consultant, said they were "almost certain" to subscribe to such a service. Time-Life later conducted a test in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in which salesmen presented the concept of a pay cable channel to residents by offering free service for the first month and a refundable installation fee; half of residents surveyed in the test expressed interest in purchasing the conceptual service. In a meeting of Dolan and some Time-Life executives who were working on the project, various other names were discussed for the new service. They ultimately settled on calling it "Home Box Office," although the name was originally intended as a working title in order to meet deadlines to publish research brochures for the new service, with the belief that management would come up with a different name later.
Originally, Home Box Office was to debut on a Service Electric cable television system in Allentown; in order to avoid blackouts for NBA games that it was set to televise (Allentown was within the NBA's designated blackout radius for the Philadelphia 76ers' market area, under rules that the league had in effect at the time to protect ticket sales), Time-Life agreed to an offer by Service Electric president John Walson to launch the channel on its system in Wilkes-Barre (outside of the 76ers' DMA, in northeastern Pennsylvania). Home Box Office launched on November 8, 1972. However, HBO's launch came without fanfare in the press, as it was not covered by any local or national media outlets. In addition, the city manager 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 was stranded in traffic while trying to exit Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge on his way to Wilkes-Barre.
The first program and movie distributed on the channel, the 1971 film Sometimes a Great Notion, starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda, was transmitted that evening to 325 Service Electric subscribers in Wilkes-Barre (a plaque commemorating this event is located at Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre). Home Box Office distributed its first sports event immediately after the film: an NHL hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks from Madison Square Garden. Four months later in February 1973, Home Box Office aired its first television special, the Pennsylvania Polka Festival. Home Box Office would use a network of microwave relay towers to distribute its programming to cable systems throughout its service area.
Sterling Manhattan Cable continued to lose money because the company had only a small subscriber base of 20,000 customers in Manhattan. Dolan's media partner, Time-Life, Inc., gained control of Sterling when it acquired an additional 60% equity interest, increasing its stake in the company to 80%; Time-Life then decided to close 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, who had been with Home Box Office since it began operations as its vice president of programming, replaced Dolan as the company's president and chief executive officer.
In September 1973, Time-Life, Inc. completed its acquisition of the pay service. At the time, Home Box Office's future looked dim: it only had 8,000 subscribers across 14 cable systems, all of which were located in Pennsylvania, and it was suffering from a significant subscriber churn rate. 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 realized 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, and began looking for cost-efficient methods of transmitting the channel nationally. In 1974, they 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 due to fears that the satellites may inadvertently shut down or jettison out of their orbit, as well as due to 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 to lease transponder space on the Westar 1 satellite for a five-year term. The Time-Life board subsequently approved the plan to transmit HBO via satellite.
At 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 1975, HBO 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 distributed the "Thrilla in Manila" boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier; it 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 those 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 air first in the eastern half of the United States to air at accordant times in the western part of the country. HBO switched its domestic satellite transmissions from Westar 1 to Satcom 1 in February 1976. By 1977, Ted Turner's Atlanta superstation WTCG-TV (soon to become WTBS) and Pat Robertson's CBN Satellite Service (later to become the present-day Freeform) had joined it, pioneering satellite delivery for the cable television industry. By 1980, HBO was carried on cable providers in all 50 U.S. states.
HBO distributed its programming for only nine hours each day, from 3:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, during its first nine years of operation. The network first adopted a 24-hour schedule on weekends in September 1981, running from 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoons until 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Sunday nights/early Monday mornings; this round-the-clock schedule was expanded to weekdays three months later on December 28, 1981 (however, 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). By this time, the full "Home Box Office" name was de-emphasized by the network, in favor of branding solely by the "HBO" initialism (although the full name is still used as the legal corporate name of its parent division under Time Warner, and in on-air use within copyright tags featured during the closing credits of the channel's original programs and a legal disclaimer slide seen daily on its primary and multiplex channels).
In 1983, HBO premiered its first original movie, The Terry Fox Story, a biopic about the Canadian runner who embarked on a cross-country run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research; the film was also the first movie ever produced for pay television. That year also saw the premiere of the first children's program to be distributed on the channel: Fraggle Rock (that series' creator, Jim Henson, had earlier produced the special Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, which won an ACE Award in 1978). HBO continued to air various original programs aimed at children until 2001, when these programs almost completely moved over to HBO Family (which continued to occasionally distribute its own slate of original children's programming until 2003).
HBO became involved in several lawsuits during the 1980s, involving legal statutes imposed by state and city laws that would have resulted in some programs on HBO and other pay television networks being censored by cable systems, if not forcing the pay services to edit inappropriate content from the programming they aired. In January 1986, HBO became the first satellite-delivered television network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by way of the Videocipher II system; this initially resulted in a mass lodge of complaints from television receive-only (TVRO) satellite users that previously received HBO's programming without a subscription. The objections by TVRO users over having to now pay for HBO as cable subscribers had long done (requiring dish subscribers to purchase an expensive descrambler to unencrypt the signal) came to a head four months later, as HBO became a victim of broadcast signal intrusion when satellite television dealer John R. MacDougall, a Florida man calling himself "Captain Midnight", redirected a receiver dish towards the network's transponder on Galaxy 1 and intercepted its signal during a movie presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman; MacDougall overrode the telecast of the film with a text-based message placed over SMPTE color bars in protest of the channel's decision to scramble its signal for home satellite subscribers. The Federal Communications Commission subsequently prosecuted MacDougall for committing the intrusion.
In 1988, HBO's subscriber base expanded greatly as a result of the Writers Guild of America strike that year, as the channel had new programming in its inventory during a period in which the broadcast networks were only able to air reruns of their shows. In 1989, HBO compared its programming against rival pay television network Showtime, with the slogan "Simply the Best", using the Tina Turner single "The Best" as part of the network's on-air image campaign.
On January 2, 1989, HBO launched Selecciones en Español de HBO y Cinemax ("Spanish Selections from HBO and Cinemax") – an alternate Spanish-language feed of HBO and Cinemax. The service, which initially launched on 20 cable systems in markets with significant populations of Spanish speakers, originally only carried Spanish audio simulcasts of live boxing matches televised by HBO (except for certain events that were already distributed 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), but later added Spanish dubs of films and other programs distributed by HBO. Selecciones – which was offered in tandem with HBO, although it 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 became successful to the point that it added 35 additional cable systems to its list of carriers within a few weeks after its debut. Selecciones en Español became HBO en Español on September 27, 1993.
Taking advantage of HBO's successes, Warner Communications (which ironically was part-owner of one of the network's pay-cable competitors, The Movie Channel, from its launch in 1973 until joint venture group Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment sold its stake in the channel to Viacom in 1986) merged with HBO parent Time Inc. in 1989 to create Time Warner, which as of 2016, remains the parent company of the network. In 1991, HBO and Cinemax became the first premium services to offer multiplexed channels to cable customers with the launches of HBO2, HBO3 and Cinemax 2 on three cable systems in Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas. In 1993, HBO became the world's first digitally transmitted television service. The move proved successful, eventually resulting in HBO and Cinemax starting up additional multiplex channels of both services – starting with the December 1996 launch of HBO Family and concluding with the launch of four Cinemax channels in 2001: WMax (now MovieMax), @Max (now Cinemáx), OuterMax and 5StarMax.
Rising prominence of original programming (1993–present)
During the 1990s, HBO began to experience increasing success with its original series such as Tales from the Crypt, Dream On, Tracey Takes On..., Mr. Show with Bob and David and Arliss. One such program, The Larry Sanders Show, arguably became HBO's flagship series during that decade and although it was not commercially as successful as programs that aired on the Big Three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) and Fox, the show did enjoy a cult status and critical acclaim, and received nominations and wins for many major television awards (including Primetime Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards). The series ranked #38 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time (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". 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 nominations for and wins of Emmy and Golden Globe Awards. One aspect as to the perceived higher quality of these shows is due to both 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.
Beginning with the 1997 launch of its first one-hour dramatic narrative series Oz, HBO started a trend that became commonplace with premium cable services. Although critically acclaimed, it was not until The Sopranos premiered in 1999, that the network achieved both mass critical and Emmy success. The Sopranos – centering on mob patriarch Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his family – received 111 Emmy nominations during its six-season run, resulting in 21 wins, two of them for Outstanding Drama Series.
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 U.S./U.S.S.R. space race through the final moon landing, Apollo 17. From the Earth to the Moon won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries, and helped spur other HBO miniseries based on historical events such as 61*, Band of Brothers, John Adams and The Pacific. That year also saw the debut of the comedy series Sex and the City, which was based on the book series of the same name by Candace Bushnell; over the course of its six-season run, the show – centering on the friendship and romances of four New York City women – received 54 Emmy nominations, winning seven, including one win for Outstanding Comedy Series.
In 1999, HBO became the first U.S. cable channel to operate a high-definition simulcast feed. In July 2001, HBO launched HBO on Demand, the first premium subscription video-on-demand enhancement in the United States, to Time Warner Cable subscribers in Columbia, South Carolina.
In 2001, HBO debuted Six Feet Under and in 2002 The Wire, which, although not surpassing The Sopranos in viewership success, matched its critical acclaim and further cemented HBO's reputation as a network that produced quality programming. HBO experienced another success among viewers in 2008, with the debut of True Blood, a vampire drama based on a series of gothic novels by Charlaine Harris. The network saw three more hit series in the 2010s with 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; 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 will also gain 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.
On October 22, 2016, AT&T reached a deal to buy Time Warner for $108.7 billion. If approved by federal regulators, the merger would bring Time Warner's properties, including HBO, under the same umbrella as AT&T's telecommunication holdings, including satellite provider DirecTV. On February 15, 2017, Time Warner shareholders approved the merger, which is still pending regulatory approval. On February 28, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that his agency will not review the deal, leaving the review to the US Department of Justice. On March 15, 2017, the merger, which is still pending approval from U.S. regulators, was approved by the European Commission. On August 22, 2017, the merger was approved by Mexican authorities. On September 5, 2017, the merger was approved by Chilean authorities. US is the last country needed for its approval as Brazil approved the merger. On October 23, 2017, the deadline was extended for a short period of time to finalize the deal. The original deadline was on Oct. 22.
In 1991, HBO and Cinemax became the first premium services to offer multiplexed services to cable customers as companions to the main network, offering additional channels of the two services to three TeleCable-operated systems in Overland Park, Kansas, Racine, Wisconsin and the Dallas suburbs of Richardson and Plano, Texas. The first two multiplex channels – HBO2 and HBO3 – launched as part of this test by the TeleCable systems. The following year, research from ACNielsen revealed that multiplex delivery of HBO and Cinemax had a positive impact on subscriber usage and attitudes, including aiding in the retention of pay cable subscriptions by its subscribers.
The HBO multiplex would later expand in December 1996, with the launch of HBO Family, focusing on family-oriented feature films and television series aimed at younger children. The HBO multiplex channels became collectively marketed under the brand name "HBO The Works" in April 1998 (the Cinemax channels concurrently began to be marketed as "MultiMax"), coinciding with the name change of HBO2 as HBO Plus (the channel would ultimately restore the HBO2 name in September 2002), and the rebranding and format change of HBO3 as HBO Signature (a network aimed at women). In May 1999, two more channels launched: HBO Comedy (featuring comedic films and series, along with stand-up comedy specials) and HBO Zone (a network aimed at young adults). Just over a year later in October 2000, the Spanish language network HBO Latino debuted, featuring a mix of dubbed simulcasts of the main HBO channel's programming and Spanish programs that are exclusive to the channel.
"HBO The Works" continued in use as the brand for the HBO multiplex until 2004. Individually, the HBO multiplex channel suite has no "official" marketed name as of 2016, although HBO and Cinemax's respective multiplex packages are marketed collectively as the "HBO/MAX Pak". HBO Family and HBO Latino had the distinction of being the only multiplex channels of HBO that have their own websites, as all of the others were integrated within the main HBO site; the separate sites and sections for both channels were eliminated in 2010, around the time the HBO Go service was launched.
List of channels
Depending on the service provider, HBO provides up to thirteen multiplex channels – seven 24-hour multiplex channels, all of which are simulcast in both standard definition and high definition – as well as a subscription video-on-demand service (HBO On Demand). Off-the-air maintenance periods of a half-hour up to two hours occur during overnight periods at scattered times on each channel once each month.
HBO broadcasts its primary and multiplex channels on both Eastern and Pacific Time Zone schedules. The respective coastal feeds of each channel are usually packaged together (though most cable providers only offer the east and west coast feeds of the main HBO channel, as well as HBO2 in some cases), resulting in the difference in local airtimes for a particular movie or program between two geographic locations being three hours at most. The premium film service Cinemax, which is also owned by Time Warner through Home Box Office Inc., operates as a separate service from HBO; although HBO is very frequently sold together in a package with Cinemax, subscribers to one of the services do not necessarily have to subscribe to the other.
|Channel||Description and programming|
HBO ComedyLaunched on May 6, 1999, HBO Comedy features comedic films, as well as rebroadcasts of HBO's original comedy series and stand-up specials; the channel broadcasts R-rated films during the daytime hours, but only airs adult comedy specials at night.
HBO FamilyLaunched in December 1996, HBO Family features movies and series aimed at children, as well as feature films intended for a broader family audience. It airs a block of series aimed at preschoolers, "HBO Kids", each morning from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m. and weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time; films and family-oriented original specials fill out the remainder of the channel's daily schedule. All films broadcast on HBO Family are rated G, PG or PG-13 (or the equivalent TV-G, TV-PG or TV-14); R-rated films and TV-MA rated programs are not broadcast on the channel. Prior to Sesame Street's migration of first-run episodes to the channel in January 2016, children's programs formerly ran on the main HBO channel in the form of a daily morning block, with specials airing during the late afternoon/early evening hours; these programs migrated entirely to HBO Family by the early 2000s.
HBO Family is HBO's third (and only successful) venture at a family-oriented pay service: two similarly formatted standalone mini-pay services that were launched by the network, Take 2 in 1979 and Festival in 1987, both ceased operations after short existences. Despite being a premium service, cable providers have occasionally used HBO Family to temporarily replace television stations that were dropped due to carriage disputes with providers such as during Hearst Television's 2012 dispute with Time Warner Cable that resulted in TWC's associated Bright House Networks system substituting independent station WMOR-TV with the channel in Tampa, Florida, and a dispute between Cox Communications and LIN TV in which HBO Family temporarily replaced Fox affiliate WVBT from Cox's Hampton Roads, Virginia system from January to February 2000.
HBO LatinoLaunched on October 31, 2000 (although originally slated to debut on September 18 of that year), HBO Latino is a channel aimed at Hispanic and Latino American audiences that largely serves as a Spanish language simulcast of the primary HBO channel, with the exception of some limited program substitutions and different network promotions featured in-between programs (HBO and its other multiplex channels also utilize the second audio program function included on many television sets, and cable and satellite receivers to provide alternate Spanish language audio tracks of most programs). The channel's programming includes HBO original productions, Spanish and Portuguese series from HBO Latin America, dubbed versions of Hollywood blockbusters, Spanish-language films and boxing events (including the original boxing series Boxeo De Oro). The channel is the successor to HBO en Español (originally named Selecciones en Español de HBO y Cinemax), which launched in 1989.
HBO SignatureHBO Signature features high quality films, HBO original series and specials. Launched in 1991, the channel was originally known as "HBO 3" until October 1998, when its format was changed from a genericized format similar to HBO and HBO2 to focusing on movies, series and specials targeted at a female audience.
HBO ZoneLaunched on May 6, 1999, HBO Zone airs movies and HBO original programs aimed at young adults between the ages of 18 to 34 years old. It is also the only HBO channel that broadcasts softcore pornographic programming, featuring adult-oriented movies similar to those seen on sister network Cinemax's Max After Dark block on most days in late-night.
On August 1, 1980, HBO launched Cinemax, a companion movie-based premium channel created as HBO's answer to fellow movie-oriented pay service The Movie Channel (which operated as a standalone service at the time). Unlike HBO, Cinemax maintained a 24-hour schedule from its launch. The channel succeeded early on partly due to its reliance on movie classics from the 1950s to the 1970s – with some more recent films mixed in – that would be presented uncut and without commercial interruption, at a time when cable subscribers only received about three dozen channels due to limited headend channel capacity. In most cases, cable operators sold Cinemax and HBO as a single package, usually offered at a discount for customers that chose to subscribe to both channels.
In its early years, Cinemax carried music specials and some limited original programming such as Second City Television and Max Headroom in addition to movies, but the network subsequently become known among its subscribers for airing softcore adult films and series during the late night hours that contain strong sexual content and nudity (broadcasts of such programs are restricted from airing on the main Cinemax channel before 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time), and eventually began producing original action series in August 2011. Beginning with the launch of Cinemax 2 (now MoreMax) in 1991, Cinemax has gradually launched its own set of multiplex services; as of 2015, in addition to its main feed and MoreMax, Cinemax operates five additional channels: ActionMax (which originally launched as Cinemax 3 in 1995); ThrillerMax (which launched in 1998); MovieMax (which originally launched as WMax in 2001); Cinemáx (a Spanish language simulcast feed, which originally launched as the separately formatted @Max in 2001) and 5StarMax (which originally launched in 2001).
HBO HD is a high definition simulcast feed of HBO that broadcasts in the 1080i resolution format. In addition to its main channel, HBO also operates high definition simulcast feeds of its six multiplex channels. HBO HD is available on most major cable providers including Cox Communications; DirecTV; Charter Communications; Time Warner Cable; Dish Network; Comcast; AT&T U-verse; Optimum; and Verizon FiOS, although few providers offer all seven multiplex channels in HD. The main channel first began broadcasting in high definition on March 6, 1999.
HBO on Demand
HBO on Demand is the channel's subscription video-on-demand service; launched on July 1, 2001 on Time Warner Cable's Columbia, South Carolina system, it was the first subscription VOD service offered by a premium channel in the United States. HBO on Demand offers a selection of movies, original series and specials previously seen on the network. The service is provided at no additional cost to HBO subscribers, who already regularly pay a premium fee to cable and satellite providers to receive access to the channel. HBO launched the VOD service in an effort to allow subscribers access to the channel's programming on their own schedules, thereby reducing the frequency in which viewers were unable to find a program they would like to watch as well as limiting cancellations to the service for that same reason. HBO on Demand features a rotating selection of films, specials and series, with select new titles added each Friday alongside existing program titles held over from the previous one to two weeks.
The standard definition and high definition versions of the HBO on Demand service are available on most cable and satellite providers, delivered to customers who subscribe to the linear HBO channels at no additional charge. On January 3, 2011, HBO became the first premium channel and the first cable network to offer a 3D-only VOD service as it launched a subscription video on demand service offering select feature films in 3D to Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Verizon FiOS customers who subscribe to the HBO service.
In the United Kingdom, a domestic version of HBO on Demand launched on TalkTalk TV in 2015, available through the provider's box sets as a strictly buy-and-keep service.
On February 18, 2010, HBO launched HBO Go, a service that carries 1,000 hours of program content available for streaming in standard or high definition, intended as a TV Everywhere service available only to existing subscribers of the linear HBO television channels (a requirement necessary to access its content via streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV, and select video game consoles, as well as via its website and mobile apps). Content available on HBO Go includes theatrically released films as well as HBO original programs, movies, comedy specials, documentaries, sports and late night adult programming.
On October 15, 2014, HBO announced plans to launch an over-the-top subscription video on demand service in 2015, which would be distributed as a standalone offering that does not require an existing television subscription to use. 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 the same day, and usually at the same time, as 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. The number of HBO Now subscribers reached over 2 million by February 2017.
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 November 2017, dramas such as Game of Thrones and Westworld, and comedies such as Girls, Veep, Ballers, Last Week Tonight and Silicon Valley). In addition, HBO also carries original made-for-TV movies, sports events and sports-centric documentary and magazine series, documentary films, behind-the-scenes specials, and concert and stand-up comedy specials. The network primarily airs most of its original programs on its main channel after 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time, although it airs select original series and made-for-cable movies as well as certain documentaries 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 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 as of 2016, despite the existence of the V-chip and other premium services having incorporated R-rated films onto their daytime schedules starting in the mid-1980s. 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. However, HBO does occasionally rebroadcast R-rated films as early as 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time 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.
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 "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), 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 original programming, which include dramatic and comedic series, in addition to its slate of theatrical films. Most of these shows are intended for adults (and, with limited exceptions, are typically assigned TV-MA ratings), often featuring 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, out of fear of losing sponsors. However some of its original programs, primarily those produced before 2001, have also been aimed at families or children; most of these type of programs have migrated to HBO Family, though HBO has produced very few newer family-oriented series for either channel since that point. 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.
In addition to maintaining rights to films from various distributors, HBO also produces its own made-for-cable movies through HBO Films; the film division, originally named HBO Pictures, began producing original movies for the network in 1983 with the debut of The Terry Fox Story. Unlike 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 channel also produces stand-up comedy specials, which were formerly broadcast under the On Location, HBO Comedy Hour and HBO Comedy Half-Hour banners, which periodically premiere on certain Saturday nights when a boxing match or movie is not scheduled during the late prime time slots.
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. 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.
As of May 2016, HBO – as well as its sister channel Cinemax – maintains exclusive first-run film licensing agreements with network sister company Warner Bros. Entertainment (including content from subsidiaries Warner Bros. Animation, New Line Cinema since 2005, and Castle Rock Entertainment), 20th Century Fox since 1979 (including content from subsidiaries 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios, New Regency Productions, and Fox Searchlight Pictures), Universal Pictures since 2003 (including content from subsidiaries Universal Animation Studios, Working Title Films, Illumination Entertainment and Focus Features), Summit Entertainment since 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), and 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 the Netflix streaming service). The first-run output deal with Summit Entertainment was renewed by HBO for an additional four years on March 1, 2016. Since 2008, HBO also holds exclusive pay cable rights to its own in-house theatrical films made through HBO Films.
HBO also shows sub-runs – runs of films that have already received broadcast or syndicated television airings – of theatrical films from Paramount Pictures (including content from subsidiary Republic Pictures, both for films released prior to 2003), Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (including content from subsidiaries Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, and former subsidiary and current independently operated studio Miramax Films), Sony Pictures Entertainment (including content from subsidiaries Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Screen Gems 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), and Lions Gate Entertainment (for films released prior to 2004).
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 that the two channels have broadcast rights to 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, it was not uncommon for multiple pay television services, including HBO, Showtime and The Movie Channel (and later, Cinemax), to hold broadcast rights to the same feature films. HBO began purchasing exclusive rights to broadcast select individual films in the late 1970s; these gradually expanded to exclusive output deals (which are commonplace with North American premium channels to this day), in which a pay service enters into a licensing agreement to broadcast movies from a particular film studio over a period of years. HBO signed its first major exclusive film output deal with Columbia Pictures in the early 1980s. During the 1980s, HBO also held rights to films 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 February 2013, rival premium channel Starz has an exclusive deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment, and is the rightsholder to all newer films from Columbia and TriStar.
Films released by Paramount Pictures between mid-1988 and late 1997 were broadcast on HBO; rival premium channel Showtime assumed pay television rights to Paramount-released films in 1998, and held them until 2008, with the rights being turned over to upstart pay service Epix (which Paramount and its corporate parent Viacom had partially owned) the following year. HBO relinquished its deal with DreamWorks Pictures to broadcast its live-action films at the end of 2010, when the distribution rights shifted from Paramount Pictures to Touchstone Pictures (whose films are broadcast by Showtime through a distribution agreement with the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group). HBO's contract with DreamWorks Animation expired after 2012, at which time Netflix assumed pay television rights to that studio's releases.
HBO broadcasts a limited amount of sports programming as well as sports-related discussion and documentary series produced by the channel's HBO Sports division; HBO – through its parent holding company Home Box Office Inc. – also operates HBO PPV (formerly TVKO), which serves as a distributor of major boxing events for pay-per-view.
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 select NHL hockey games through the mid-1970s. HBO has long been known for its telecasts of boxing matches (which usually air on Saturday nights every two to three weeks on average), including those shown on its flagship sports program HBO World Championship Boxing. 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. That same year, 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 (owned by Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System subsidiary).
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 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). HBO expanded its boxing slate in September 1996, with the launch of Boxing After Dark, a program which showcases fights from up-and-coming boxing talents.
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 1998), 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.
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.
Many of HBO's documentary series appear under the America Undercover brand, the regular features of which have been Real Sex (a late night magazine-formatted series of specials that ran from 1992 to 2009, which frankly explored a variety of mainstream and non-mainstream sexual matters) and Autopsy. 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 recent documentaries was Dare to Dream, about the U.S. Women's Soccer Team and their effort to make a difference, and featured Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett and Julie Foudy.
HBO's first successful documentary aired in 1979, the six-part series Time Was, which featured host Dick Cavett being inserted into seminal events occurring between the 1920s and the 1970s. 1981's She's Nobody's Baby, produced by Ms. magazine, was another well-known documentary tracing the evolution in the societal role of American women during the 20th Century; the special earned HBO the first Peabody Award won by a pay television service. Since then, the network has brought home numerous Peabody Awards for its documentary films. HBO had also broadcast informational documentaries produced in partnership with Consumer Reports starting in 1980, focusing on subjects from product safety to finance to 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., provided factual information on AIDS and HIV and was hosted by then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
In 2004, guided by human rights activist Ansar Burney, an HBO team for Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel used a hidden camera to document slavery and torture in secret desert camps where boys under the age of five were trained to race camels, a national sport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 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. The report also questioned the sincerity of U.S. diplomacy in pressuring the UAE, an ally to the United States, to comply with its own stated policy of banning the use of children under 15 from camel racing. The documentary won a Sports Emmy Award in 2004 for "Outstanding Sports Journalism" and the 2006 Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for "Outstanding Broadcast Journalism". It also brought worldwide attention to the plight of child camel jockeys in the Middle East and helped the Ansar Burney Trust to 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 called When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Also in 2006, documentary artist Lauren Greenfield directed a feature-length film about four young women struggling with eating disorders seeking treatment at the Renfrew Clinic in Florida, called Thin. 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 in the form of a video diary that was filmed by the boys themselves, who were given video cameras 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 covers Obama's 2006 trip to Africa, his presidential primary campaign, the 2008 general election and his inauguration. The documentary received theatrical release in New York City and Los Angeles, and aired on HBO in November 2009.
In November 2012, HBO aired a four-part documentary titled Witness, each part of which is devoted to covering photojournalists in four conflict regions: Juarez, Libya, South Sudan and Rio de Janeiro. On March 28, 2013, the channel premiered the Alexandra Pelosi-directed documentary Fall to Grace, about former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who resigned from the post in 2011 following the revelation of an infidelity scandal that led McGreevey to come out as gay. On April 10, 2013, HBO aired 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, a documentary about the story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who traveled to Nazi Germany in 1939 and, with the help of the B'rith Sholom fraternal organization, saved Jewish children in Vienna from likely death in The Holocaust by finding them new homes in Philadelphia. In April 2013, the channel aired the documentary An Apology to Elephants, about the purported abuse and brutal treatment of elephants.
In addition to its linear television channels, HBO has entered into other ventures:
In April 1979, HBO launched its first attempt at a spin-off service, Take 2. Designed as a family-oriented mini-pay service, Take 2 was essentially formatted as an alternative to HBO, without any R-rated program content. The channel was ultimately deemed a major failure due to low subscribership and limited carriage by cable providers, and ceased operations late that summer. HBO management analysized the mistakes that led to Take 2's downfall, which would result in the development of the network's second and more successful attempt at a secondary pay service, the movie-focused Cinemax, which launched on August 1, 1980.
In 1987, HBO launched the premium channel Festival, a separate service that was distinctively programmed to provide family-friendly fare, which featured classic and recent hit movies, as well as HBO's original specials (which were branded when broadcast on the channel under the banner "Centerstage", which featured stand-up comedy, concert specials and ice skating shows) and documentaries.
Festival, whose on-air slogan was Quality Entertainment You Welcome Home, had also broadcast collections of feature films featuring a particular movie star (known as "Star Salutes"). What differed Festival from HBO was that the former channel was programmed as a family-oriented service. Atypical for a premium service, Festival featured edited versions of R-rated movies that were recut in order to fit a PG rating and allowed only high-quality series, specials and movies to be broadcast on the channel's schedule.
As Festival was designed as a mini-pay premium service (formatted similarly to Take 2 before it), the cost of a monthly subscription of the channel was also priced lower than that of HBO and Cinemax. Festival provided its subscribers with a color 20-page monthly program guide. Like HBO, Festival also ran occasional free preview periods, such as the October 30 to November 2, 1987 preview hosted by Tony Randall. However, the channel suffered from insufficient cable carriage as only a few providers carried Festival; as such, it could not compete with then-fellow premium service The Disney Channel, which also maintained a family-oriented programming format (that service would convert into a basic cable channel in April 1997). Festival would eventually shut down in late 1988.
The Comedy Channel / Comedy Central
In 1989, HBO created The Comedy Channel, a basic cable channel that featured clips excerpted from stand-up comedy sets, comedic feature films and television series (using a programming model similar to the original format of MTV), which launched on November 15 of that year. The channel competed with another startup comedy-oriented cable channel that debuted the following year, Viacom-owned Ha!: The TV Comedy Network, which focused on reruns of older network sitcoms. Both channels suffered from insufficient cable carriage (both Ha! and The Comedy Channel each had fewer than 10 million subscribers). This resulted in Viacom and HBO reaching an agreement to merge Ha! and The Comedy Channel into a single channel called CTV: The Comedy Network, which debuted on April 1, 1991; the channel subsequently changed its name three months later to Comedy Central due to confusion and potential legal issues with Canadian broadcaster, the CTV Television Network. Time Warner/HBO exited the venture when Viacom bought out its 50% stake in Comedy Central for $1.23 billion in April 2003.
Television and film production
HBO formed the production company HBO Independent Productions in 1990, which mainly served to produce sitcoms for broadcast television and basic cable (which included series such as Martin, Roc, The Ben Stiller Show and Everybody Loves Raymond). HBO Downtown Productions was formed one year later, producing comedy specials for HBO, as well as program content for Comedy Central (such as Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist).
HBO also operates HBO Films, which was established in 1999 as a reconfiguration and consolidation of two separate movie divisions operated by Home Box Office Inc., HBO NYC Productions and HBO Pictures. HBO also operated another film division called HBO Showcase, which began operations in 1986; it was shut down in 1996 and was relaunched as HBO NYC Productions.
HBO also participated in a number of joint ventures in film production:
- In 1982, HBO entered into a joint venture with Columbia Pictures and CBS Theatrical Films to form Tri-Star Pictures (the hyphen was dropped from the name in 1991), in order to pool resources to split the ever-growing costs of making feature films. Tri-Star's first production, The Natural, was released in 1984. CBS sold its ownership stake in the studio in November 1985. In April 1987, Tri-Star entered into the television production business with the formation of Tri-Star Television. HBO relinquished its stake in Tri-Star that December, with Columbia Pictures buying its venture shares and merging Columbia and Tri-Star into Columbia Pictures Entertainment. As of 2015, TriStar operates as a production arm of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- In 1983, HBO entered into a limited partnership with Thorn EMI to create Silver Screen Partners, which was the first LP of its kind that was developed for the purpose of financing the production of feature films. The studio only released seven films between 1983 and 1986, most of which were not commercial or critical successes, with the minor exception of the 1985 comedy film Volunteers.
- In 1993, HBO invested in upstart film production company Savoy Pictures (co-founded by Victor A. Kaufman and Lewis J. Korman). The studio held investments in other properties including Savoy Broadcasting, a minority-owned communications firm, that evolved into SF Broadcasting (which was operated in a joint venture with the Fox Broadcasting Company, and affiliated its four stations with that network between September 1995 and January 1996). Savoy Pictures was unable to experience success with any of its feature film releases, and eventually folded in 1997.
- In 2005, HBO Films and New Line Cinema formed Picturehouse, a worldwide theatrical distribution company for high-quality independent films. The company was shut down in 2008 as part of the consolidation of New Line with its sister studio Warner Bros. Entertainment (Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney would later resurrect the studio as an independent entity from Time Warner).
As objections to the advent of home video from factions of the entertainment industry began to die down, in November 1984, HBO partnered with independent film distributor Thorn EMI to form Thorn EMI/HBO Video. Thorn EMI cut various distribution agreements with smaller film production companies that did not have their own home video units, such as Orion Pictures and New Line Cinema. In 1986, Cannon Films bought out Thorn EMI's interest in the unit, which was accordingly renamed HBO/Cannon Video. Cannon dropped out of the venture by 1987 after the studio took a financial hit following its attempt at a series of larger budget films that did not experience box office success; the unit was then renamed HBO Video. Over time, HBO Video (which eventually became HBO Home Entertainment by the early 2010s, with physical product manufactured by Warner Home Video) shifted away from releasing films from independent studios to releasing HBO's catalog of original programs and films on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Various products have been marketed that have used the HBO trademark and/or are 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 web service. Operating as a pay service (a model similar to that used by the channel itself), HBO Mobile featured 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). That same year, Mattel and Screenlife released a version of the DVD interactive game Scene It?, featuring trivia relating to HBO's original series.
When HBO launched in 1972, its original logo was merely consisted of the "Home Box Office" name and a ticket stub surrounded by a lighted marquee. The original version of its current logo (designed by Bemis Balkind) was introduced in 1975, using an uppercase bold "HBO" text with a circle inside the 'O', which in turn cuts into the 'B'. The logo was modified in 1980 (although it did not completely replace the original version until 1981), with the 'B' and the 'O' becoming full letterforms, albeit continuing to be attached to each other. The simplicity of the logo makes it fairly easy to duplicate, something HBO has taken advantage of many times over the years.
The logo became iconic due to a program opening sequence produced in 1981 by New York City production firm Liberty Studios, nicknamed "HBO in Space", which was used from September 20, 1982 to September 30, 1997. The original full version begins with a window shot of a family (or alternately, a married couple) in an apartment sitting down to watch HBO on their television set (which was replaced by a cloudscape that faded into the city sequence in December 1983), which transitions to a fly-through over a constructed model cityscape and countryside. A starburst – or "stargate effect" – then occurs following a pan towards a star-filled sky (which begins a shorter version of the sequence), unveiling a chrome-plated HBO logo that flies and rotates into view; colored light beams encircle the side of the "O", then flash to a partially animated sequence featuring more lights racing counter-clockwise in its interior on a silver axis, revealing "HBO Feature Presentation" or another program type (such as "Standing Room Only", "HBO Special" or "On Location") in block text, before additional beams sweep across the text and shine, with more flashing into a fade to black. Most variants of this sequence were discontinued in 1986, except for the feature presentation (which was relegated to use only for the main prime time film), "Saturday Night Movie" and "Sunday Night Movie" variants (the latter two of which were discontinued in 1993). Many versions of the intro are available on YouTube, including one uploaded to HBO's official YouTube channel. 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 – has become a musical signature for HBO, and has been used in feature presentation, upcoming program and evening schedule bumpers, and network IDs since 1998 with various arrangements from horns to piano being used over the years.
Another well-known HBO program opener, "Neon Lights", began movies airing outside of primetime from November 1, 1986, to September 30, 1997. The sequence, set to a synth and electric guitar theme, begins with a purple HBO logo on a film strip with blue, green and pink light rays shooting through it as the strip rotates out of view; the lights shoot through several glowing CG slots until a flash of light hits a field of spheres in varying colors, which zoom out to form a light purple HBO logo overlaid by a cursive magenta "Movie" script against a black background with rows of light purple spheres. From 1997 to 1999, HBO used several feature presentation bumpers designed by Pittard Sullivan featuring the network logo in different situations (such as a fish in water, a celebrity in a limousine, a large HBO logo chasing a man and a neon HBO logo on the rooftop of a building); these sequences were also used by the network as IDs from 1997 to 2002, and in upcoming program and evening schedule bumpers until 2000.
From September 1999 to April 1, 2011, HBO used a Pittard Sullivan-designed CGI feature presentation bumper sequence that features a flyover similar to the 1982 sequence, starting with the front of a movie theater featuring a marquee that reads "HBO Feature Presentation", and trekking through a country road, a snowy mountain road near a cliff and a desert road (respectively passing under a tower, tunnel and tanker truck shaped in the individual letters of the HBO logotype); this leads into a road in an urban neighborhood (with skyscrapers visible in the background) that becomes a bridge upon the city's downtown area, and lead to a slowing flyover toward and pan over an HBO logo-shaped lake that starts with several spotlights rapidly turning on and ends with a 3D animation of the "Feature Presentation" text. The closing animation that is seen both in the full version as well as a shorter version of the sequence (seen outside of weekend prime time films and Saturday film premieres, when the longer sequence was used).
The sequence was replaced on April 2, 2011 – as part of a new graphics package implemented on that date across the HBO multiplex channels – by a much shorter opening sequence designed by Jesse Vartanian (who also designed CGI teaser commercials for HBO's premiere telecast of the 2010 film Avatar), consisting only of a dark background with faint light auroras around the HBO logo and a simple "Feature Presentation" text animation, accompanied by soft orchestral music.
Another new opening sequence, done by Imaginary Forces, was implemented on March 4, 2017. The current intro combines live-action and CGI while also paying homage to the original 1982 sequence (to the point that the latter can be seen during the new intro).
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, HBO has overseen a number of partnerships that operate HBO-branded television networks around the world. As the network was launched in new markets, the HBO brand has been used in several countries. HBO has established channels in various countries worldwide including Brazil, Canada, Eastern Europe, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.
HBO also licenses its programming to air on certain other broadcast, cable channels and Video on demand services outside the United States, such as:
- Sky Atlantic, which is available within the Republic of Ireland, Austria, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, San Marino and Switzerland.
- Ziggo Movies & Series XL, Video on demand service in the Netherlands.
- HBO Nordic, Video on demand service in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
- M-net EDGE which is available in Sub-Sahara Africa.
- Hotstar which is an on demand service owned by Star India, streams the HBO Originals content in the Indian Subcontinent.
- TVCine, which is a TV cable network in Portugal.
- Be 1, a Belgian French-language TV cable channel which also provides on demand service.
- Showcase, an Australian cable TV channel provided on Foxtel.
- SoHo (TV channel), which is a TV satellite network in New Zealand.