Well, now HBO is just messing with us: The premium cable channel here in America has officially announced that viewers will be able to access an online-only version of the channel, with access to all of its shows, movies, and miniseries, without also paying for a cable subscription. The catch?
The service is only available for Scandinavians.
HBO Nordic AB will launch in mid-October and it will be available in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. The service will come in two forms: As a channel that cable subscribers can choose to add on to their current subscription (as in the States), or as an Internet streaming service, a Netflix-style all-you-can-eat buffet of content plucked from the HBO catalogue.
This second option is noteworthy, as it is the first time that HBO has offered up its media library sans subscription to a television cable package. Though there has been much begging in America for HBO to offer its Internet counterpart HBO Go -- which is simply a streaming library of every HBO show, past and present, plus dozens of movies -- as a separate entity, HBO's business is profitable without it, and execs have remained firm that only those who pay for the channel as part of their cable will be able to access it.
That stance is just fine with Netfilx, which would likely lose customers if HBO were to make HBO GO a subscription service in the U.S. As for the looming battle in Scandinavia, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is apparently ready for combat, posting a jocular note to his Facebook page challenging HBO to rumble stateside:
"Excited to see HBO join us in offering standalone streaming service in Scandinavia..." Hastings wrote. "What about the USA? We thought the first match-up would be in Albania."
(That part about Albania is apparently a reference to a 2010 remark by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who laughed off suggestions that Netflix was going to disrupt the cable business by saying, ""It’s a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world? I don’t think so.")
Will HBO ever truly clash with Netflix in America, making HBO Go a separate entity from the HBO network? Don't expect it anytime soon: Just because it's happening in Scandinavia does not mean it's going to happen here. Per Variety, HBO is treating its Nordic expansion as a special case:
An HBO spokesman made clear that this launch does not reflect a strategic change for the company in any of its current markets. "Each market is unique and HBO approaches each one with what we consider to believe the best business model specific to that territory."
The best business model for this territory, meanwhile, remains the same: HBO Go access only for those who pay for it as part of a cable package. We can plead with HBO to Take Our Money all we want, but unless we're paying in krona, we're out of luck for now.
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Don't Watch A Movie Without Rating It
When you finish a show or movie on Netflix, the site requests that you give it between one and five stars, based on how much you enjoyed it. You're not being asked to rate that content for kicks, or so that you can later reminisce about how much you liked a certain film: Rather, Netflix has spent many years improving its recommendation engine, even offering a $1 million prize for anyone who could up the accuracy of Netflix recommendations by 10 percent. At this point, the Netflix recommendation engine is pretty darn accurate -- it takes into account your own ratings as well as the viewing habits of those similar to you. Basically, the more films you rate, the more you're likely to enjoy a Netflix recommendation. If you constantly find yourself frustrated that there's nothing on Netflix, take a half hour or so and knock out a few hundred ratings on the "Taste Profile" section of the site, and make sure you've filled in your genre preferences, too. Finally, if Netflix persists in recommending a title that you're just never going to watch -- for me, that would be "The Lincoln Lawyer" -- remember that you can click on the "Not Interested" button on any film's homepage and it will disappear from your recommendations page while simultaneously smartening up your future recs. (For an in-depth look at the Netflix recommendation engine, and how it works, I recommend this post on Netflix's official blog.)
Don't Fly Blind
Leaning on Netflix's recommendations alone ensures that you'll discover some good flicks; if you're really committed to shaking all the leaves from the tree, however, you're going to need some backup artillery. There are several excellent extensions that you can add to your favorite browser to augment your Netflix experience and increase your chances of sniffing out a great new film. An extension like "Rotten Netflix," for example, inserts little Rotten Tomatoes scores beneath every movie poster on the website, so that you can instantly know how a movie fared with critics. Similarly, the "IMFlixDB" extension displays a movie's IMDB ranking on a white bar above the Netflix homepage and gives you quick access to that film's information page. The ever-prodigious members at Reddit use the wisdom of crowds, meanwhile, to constantly vote up streaming movies that you might otherwise miss. It's a super-active community with consistently high-quality recommendations: Check it out here.
Don't Let A Film Disappear
Another Netflix specialty website is InstantWatcher, a clean website that allows for easier movie search than you'll find on the Netflix homepage. And while many outlets toast InstantWatcher for its quick and robust search functionality, we like it because it also lists the notable films that will disappear from Netflix Instant soon. There's even a Twitter feed that does nothing but tweet out the names of soon-to-be-expired Netflix movies. There is no worse feeling, in the whole entire world, than sitting down to watch a movie you've had in your Netflix queue only to discover that the movie has disappeared. Don't let it happen to you again.
Don't Be Afraid To Quit
One of the really nice things about a Netflix subscription is that you pay month-by-month; it's not like a cell phone contract where you're locked in for two years and you have to pay an exorbitant fee if you want to get out early or cancel service. With Netflix, you can quit for one month and come back the next: Netflix will save your queue and ratings for up to two years so that if you do come back, you don't really have to start over. So, if you're taking a vacation, or studying for the LSATs, or going to prison, just cancel your account and save yourself the $8 for as long as you need. Or, if you are one of our Olympian Netflix bashers from above, go ahead and try life without the 'Flix for a month or two and see how you do. Your account information will be waiting for you when (or if) you return; and, hey, if you do, now you have plenty of new ways to find the excellent movies and TV shows you might have missed while in exile.