HBO joining the online distribution party this week

HBO's going digital with a new software application that lets people play catch-up on their favorite episodes.

The New York Times is reporting that HBO is launching its own online distribution service for a portion of its content both past and present. Starting this week, lucky residents of Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin will be the first to get dibs on the new software application that can be set up to download and stack episodes old and new that can be watched on their PCs. Cable provider Time Warner (the same folks working on the lovely bandwidth metering down in Texas) is sending out the application on an CD to current HBO subscribers "soon."

Already there are a few caveats to using the fancy new software. For one, the application is limited to Windows machines, and unlike standard network television channels, Internet users can't access the programming without being an HBO subscriber--a system that's likely to be checked with activation servers. The downloaded content is also given a self-expiration date of one month, regardless of whether or not it's been watched. In many ways it's similar to the BBC's efforts with the iPlayer project, both in helping people catch up on old episodes, and attempting to curb piracy with easy access.

The Times notes competitor Showtime's foray into digital distribution that started with iTunes back in 2006. Showtime currently has just over a dozen shows on iTunes and Amazon's Unbox service at $2 a pop, although unlike HBO's standalone downloading media player, both services are on a purchase model that allow users to repeatedly watch episodes on their computers, TVs, and in the case of iTunes--iPods and iPhones.

HBO Subscribers are getting a slightly better end of the deal than their Showtime counterparts as long as they're willing to watch the shows on their PCs and forgo bringing the programming with them on portable devices. I'm still interested to see how much legacy programming HBO intends to offer in its first few months, as two of the key reasons for piracy are people simply not wanting to buy DVDs or missing the episode within its initial TV window. Isn't this what they created on-demand programming for in the first place?

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