Gasp! Comcast just made HBO available without a cable subscription

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Fans of Game of Thrones, Girls, and Boardwalk Empire may be getting closer to being able to watching their favorite shows without committing to a cable subscription filled with hundreds of channels worth of nonsense they will probably never ever watch.

In the past, fans have gone so far as to ask HBO point-blank to make the channel’s VOD mobile platform, called HBO GO, available without a cable subscription. To which HBO has offered up no concessions with a polite side of non-committal lip service.

Meanwhile, streaming VOD service Netflix has quietly gone on to produce top-shelf original content, which has not only paid off in Emmy Gold, but catapulted Netflix over HBO in terms of U.S. subscribers.

However, it looks as if the country's number one cable provider, Comcast, may have finally made HBO available without a cable subscription—the catch being you have to bundle it with a broadband subscription.

On Thursday, Comcast unveiled a new broadband plan it calls Internet Plus. For $50 a month, users will have access to 20 Mbps Internet download speeds in addition to HBO on their TVs—completely divorced from a big unwieldy bundle of cable programming.

In addition to broadband access and HBO, the Internet Plus plan will give users access to Comcast’s Netflix-like buffet-streaming X-Finity Steampix service, local broadcast TV, and a handful of mostly low-rent local cable channels (at least those were the options based on my hometown’s address outside Philadelphia; offerings differ by location). The plan will only be available at $50 per month for the first 12 months, after which it will jump to $70 per month.

Is this how pay TV dies?

The new plan maybe a subtle nod from the Comcast that it sees that the era of pay TV is on the way out. This is just one small offering from one cable company. However, it may be a sly acknowledgment from Comcast that it will have to pivot its business plan away from being a cable TV provider to becoming a facilitator of Internet access, which offers access to the content of others.

HBO is still producing brilliant television that people want to watch. However, if the brand is to survive the changing market, the company will be forced to expand beyond the moribund cable TV dynamic.

If it doesn’t, far more flexible and ambitious businesses like Netflix—which, we should note, is in talks to bring its service to cable boxes where it would compete with HBO directly—will gladly take its place atop the pantheon of TV greatness.

Correction: A reference to Time Warner Cable being a subsidiary of HBO's parent compamy Time Warner has been removed. Time Warner Cable has been independent from its former parent company since it was spun-off in a 2009 restructuring.

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