Dragons, Detectives and Muppets! Why I'm Keeping My Subscription to HBO Now
I do not watch much television, but I do love HBO's Game of Thrones. Even though I've just read the first three books in the series, I know that I will read all of them...eventually. And their ten episode season fits me perfectly. Give me enough story to keep me interested, but don't draw out details just to fill time.
And this past April, HBO made watching their programming much easier by offering HBO Now, the online stand-alone streaming service for people like me. People who do not want to pay the cable company for a television package filled with channels they will never watch. Instead of paying some ridiculous amount of money for a cable TV plan, I pay $16.20 after tax per month for access to all of HBO's programming which I watch on our Apple TV or my MacPro. I could watch on my iPad or iPhone if I wanted to squint.
When I signed up for the thirty day free trial, I thought I'd pay for another month or two. Just enough to get me through the season of Game of Thrones. But My Person and I ended up watching enough programming that we decided that the $16.20/month fee was worth paying.
He watches very few series, but we both like to watch documentaries and movies together. We average about one movie or documentary a week, so even if that's all we watch, that's $4.05/movie. Two of our favorite documentaries so far have been Going Clear: Scientology and CitizenFour. We've also watched several movies including J. Edgar, Jersey Boys, and Recount. And HBO consistently adds to the mix.
When season five of Game of Thrones ended, I started watching True Detective. Besides being an original police/murder mystery/political thriller, each episode premieres online for HBO Now at the same time the show airs on HBO. I wish iTunes could get that kind of access for the series I buy through them. I'm willing to pay for a few individual season passes or access to a premium channel to avoid commercials, and HBO makes their streaming service even more appealing to me by allowing me same-time access.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs at 11pm on Sundays, so I don't always stay up late for my weekly in-depth satire. But I certainly have not missed an episode, even if I'm watching it a few days later. After a few months of paying for the monthly fee, I started thinking about how I was morphing into quite the loyal HBO fan. A thought that bothered me a bit because I don't watch much TV and I don't want to develop addictive viewing habits. When I was considering what HBO has offered me, I got a bit nostalgic and then I read some news about a new partnership for HBO.
I remember when my family first subscribed to this new premium subscription channel HBO, and the cable guy placed the brown box on top of our TV set. Movies, previously only scene in movie theaters, were available for us to watch non-stop all day and all night. No more snow! Not that I witnessed much snow, but I knew that channels had "dead time" where nothing aired.
Star Wars: A New Hope was the first movie I remember watching over and over. It felt like HBO was looping the Force. If you'd like to relive the original HBO intro for Star Wars, check out this short clip available from Star Wars Collector Base on YouTube. Hearing that original music was a bit uncanny!
Back in the summer of 1983, my brother and sister and I would wake up early and watch Star Wars as we ate cereal. We'd go out to play, but when our mom was wrangling us up for an outing, we'd plop in front of the TV for a few minutes while we waited to depart. And just about every time, Star Wars would be playing. Within a few weeks, we had every movie line memorized. Because that's how kids were and are. Back then and now. Kids will watch the same Disney movie repeatedly. They'll listen to their favorite bed time story over and over. You can sing the same camp songs and kids won't get bored.
So I was bemused by the number of people who are up-in-arms by the recent partnership between HBO and Sesame Workshop. I read the details initially in The New York Times. Basically, Sesame Street has been struggling financially, so they've been searching for help, for a financial partner. And they've chosen HBO.
Some people are upset that under the terms of this partnership new content will not air on PBS immediately. The free content that will be available will be remixed old content. The new content will air on HBO for nine months and then become available for free on PBS, the home of Sesame Street since 1969.
I'm actually quite optimistic about this partnership. HBO has consistently developed high quality programming. Sure, these programs, which can be violent and sexually explicit, have been for adults. But it seems like HBO may be looking to grow their subscription audience. So some people are getting all upset that just the rich parents will be able to pay for HBO. Sesame Street isn't going off the air. Their plan is to edit various content that's already aired and show it during the nine month waiting period. All kids still have access to Sesame Street for free. And kids won't care that the episodes are re-runs.
And the money that HBO can pour into developing even more Sesame Workshop content seems like a fair trade for a nine month waiting period. Sesame Workshop currently creates 18 one-hour episodes of Sesame Street each season. With HBO's backing that number changes to 35 thirty-minute episodes. So thirty minutes less for total Sesame Street content, but Sesame Workshop will also be creating a Sesame Street Muppet spinoff and another original children's program for HBO. If HBO applies their high quality standard to children's educational programming, then children and PBS win with more programming overall. And Sesame's deal with HBO is for five years, not eternity. If HBO decides to water down the educational content or promote ridiculous products to children, then Sesame Workshop just needs to sic Oscar the Grouch on their corporate butts and walk away.
I try to be balanced in my attitude toward corporate America. I like the deals I can get on Amazon. I've been shopping for school supplies at Target, Walmart, and Office Depot. I'm not sure I could remain organized without my Apple products. But I also patronize plenty of small businesses. Most of the movies I see are at the Tucson independent film venue The Loft. No matter where I've lived, my favorite places to eat are usually local restaurants. When I travel, I almost always check out a city's local bookstore. I know that some people draw a hard line at patronizing any corporate business. But I just can't be that stringent.
It would be great if Sesame Workshop could afford to remain financially independent, but that's not their reality. As someone who grew up watching and loving Sesame Street, I'm glad that HBO has partnered with Sesame Workshop. I want my nieces and nephew to grow up with Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, and Cookie Monster. And this is an opportunity for HBO to transform the perception of corporate America.
If HBO contributes to the creation of dynamic high quality educational children's programming and lifts the bar of expectations for other networks and corporate providers, then I'll even be grateful to them.
For now, I'm keeping my HBO Now subscription and looking forward to seeing how HBO money affects Sesame Workshop programs. And I'll admit, I'm crossing my fingers that some Fraggles may rock the HBO screen again.