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HBO: Not as 'Dumb' as Netflix

Stocks in this article: TWX NFLX

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In recent articles on TheStreet, I make it clear that I have a newfound respect for Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings. In fact, I expect his company to eventually rise from the dead.

That said, I spent 2011 ahead of the curve, chiding Hastings for several vital errors, not the least of which was his decision to prematurely stamp out Netflix's DVD division. Errant moves like that separate the good CEOs from the great ones. You would never see Time Warner (TWX) CEO Jeff Bewkes make such a horrific strategic miscalculation.


There's a grassroots movement on Twitter. It even has a Web site: Take My Money, HBO. It's cute. You put in the amount you're willing to pay for a standalone HBO GO subscription and the same message gets Tweeted, alongside your name and price, over and over again.

It's a straightforward issue. HBO only allows households that subscribe to the premium pay channel via cable or satellite to access the network's programming on any device they choose via the cross-platform HBO GO offering. There's a clamoring of some size that wants a standalone HBO GO for non-subscribers. HBO will not budge.

Bewkes and HBO brass make the right move by holding out. Several explanations as well as reasons exist for why.

HBO is not Radiohead. You can't name your price for their content. And they're not going to listen to what amounts to an unscientific survey on Twitter, take the average of the prices respondents are willing to pay for standalone HBO GO and give a relative minority what it wants.

HBO does not have to do this. It, as well as the entire Time Warner conglomerate, can afford to move slowly and cautiously into the digital, multiplatform future, even if it's, in many ways, happening now. That's because Time Warner owns premium content such as HBO. It really has you by the short ones.

HBO collects roughly $217.5 million dollars per month in subscriber fees, based on numbers compiled by TechCrunch.

Given the relative paltry number of cord-cutters -- people who do not subscribe to cable or satellite, but gather all of their television programming via streaming platforms - Time Warner would be certifiably insane to open up HBO GO to non-subscribers at this point. Why risk billions in virtually guaranteed revenue when there's hardly a good reason to do so?

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