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HBO Go direct access inches closer but still out of reach

Cord cutters: Time Warner may be creeping closer to direct HBO Go subscriptions that don't require a pay-TV service, as the company's CEO softens his stance. But it's not here yet.

HBO GO
HBO Go is only available with a pay-TV subscription for now. CNET

NEW YORK -- Access without a cable subscription to HBO Go, the premium cable channel's online platform with a huge library of streaming video, may be closer than ever before -- and still too far to grasp.

Jeff Bewkes, the chairman and chief executive of HBO's parent Time Warner, softened his wording about the possibility that HBO Go could become a direct-to-consumer option, one available without a pay-TV service such as a cable or satellite subscription.

"Up until now, it looked like the best opportunity was to focus on ... HBO through the existing affiliate system," he said at a Goldman Sachs investor conference Wednesday. "The broadband-only opportunity up until now wasn't ... at the point where it would be smart to move the focus from one to the other. Now the broadband opportunity is quite a bit bigger."

Though he said the company isn't yet ready to announce direct-to-consumer HBO Go, his characterization of Time Warner's stance is warmer than previous comments about the concept. At the same conference in 2013, Bewkes said that HBO's main opportunity was in the 70 million or more people who subscribe to a pay-TV service but not to HBO, rather than the 5 million or 10 million who have opted out of the pay-TV system altogether -- people known as "cord cutters" or "cord nevers."

But Wednesday, Bewkes said the company is "seriously considering what is the best way to deal with online distribution."

HBO has already been migrating closer to a world with direct-to-consumer HBO Go access, without quite getting there in the US. It has launched such a service in the Nordic countries, and it has introduced packages with several pay-TV providers that offer a slimmer collection of channels -- broadcast networks and HBO, including access to HBO GO -- at a much lower price than the typical cable or satellite bill.

But for now, HBO Go remains the dominion of cable and satellite subscribers in the US -- and the people cozy enough with subscribers to wheedle an HBO Go password out of them.