Reports have been pretty consistent that HBO will offer a direct-to-consumer streaming option sometime next year. When that might land and what that might look like, however, have been subject to rampant (and usually unfounded) speculation. Today, at least a little more detail is trickling in. The company is currently planning to launch the service, in some capacity, in April alongside the premiere of season five of Game of Thrones. Though, that timeline is subject to the usual caveats about plans changing and all that jazz. Those plans were revealed in a memo (which you'll find after the break) announcing plans to cancel its own streaming platform project "Maui" and license MLB Advanced's much-lauded tech instead.
The decision to kill off the Maui project, which is headed up by Microsoft alum Otto Berkes, comes as competitors like Showtime are starting to breathe down HBO's neck. According to Fortune, the company realized that Berkes "couldn't pull it off." After years of delays, high-profile outages during Game of Thrones and True Detective and a general lack of upgrades, the company simply decided to shift gears.
If HBO wants to maintain its lead in the streaming space and beat other networks to the market, it needed a proven platform it could quickly build upon. MLB Advanced's streaming already powers offerings from the likes of the WWE and ESPN, so HBO believes it can make its April goal by turning to the established tech. This also means that HBO can focus more on its bread and butter -- "good shit" -- instead of dabbling in tech.
There are plenty of big questions left to be answered, however. What does this mean for the troubled HBO Go? How will cable companies react to one of its biggest attractions going it alone? And most importantly, how much is HBO going to charge? Seriously, I'm putting together my 2015 budget right now and need to know!
HBO executive management has made a decision to pursue an external solution for the product that was being built by the Maui team. This decision was not made lightly, and was based on an assessment of risk and scope of the product needed to meet HBO¹s short term business needs for April 2015. This was not a judgment of the team¹s work quality or deliverables but rather a bet that an existing streaming service could deliver the needed product faster and at lower risk than Maui.
This means that effective today the Maui project is cancelled.
Canceling a project is unpleasant, especially when the target is in sight and tantalizingly close. Drew and I have often discussed the excellent work done by the team on Maui – The Maui team was hitting deliverables ahead of schedule and at a high level of quality. Maui's timeframe caused us to make concessions both in scope and culture. We look forward to returning to teams defining scope, and consumer experiences without forced top down scheduling.
The larger technology team now has three core missions.
1. Our top priority: Fully support the work needed to enable the external solution for April. To begin this work we have asked a small forward group to engage and assess with the external partner and get to a detailed statement of work as quickly as possible. Once that SoW is complete we will staff to meet our deliverables.
2. A large portion of Maui's effort can be repurposed for HBO GO, a top priority for HBO. We will continue to make HBO GO the best global capable streaming service available. This means that we redouble and focus our efforts, first for the April timeframe with our scale and robustness goals for Game of Thrones, and second with our longer term plan to deploy Hurley, and a suite of Hadron clients as quickly as possible. We will also fold as much as possible of the good work done for Maui into HBO GO where we can.
3. We will continue our efforts around interactive and other future looking areas on a case by case basis the same way we do today.
Maui was a way to get us into market faster with a less than perfect solution – the external partner will take that burden allowing us to focus on the forward looking technologies we are creating for HBO GO.
Mark and Drew
Update: In the wake of HBO's decision to kill his pet project, CTO Otto Berkes has resigned. The exec's displeasure was barely masked in the memo he released announcing his resignation, in which he said, "HBO's management decided to partner with a third party... This is a change in direction from what I planned with HBO and the approach will not utilize my overall capabilities."