Home Box Office

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Home Box Office
Station logo
General information
Reception: Satellite (digital, DVB-S2 ),
cable (digital, ITU-J.83b ), IPTV
Owner: Time Warner
Start of broadcast: November 8, 1972, USA
Legal form: under private law
Program type: Full program
Website: www.hbo.com
List of TV channels

Home Box Office , or HBO for short , is an American television program provider based in New York City . The company, founded in 1972, is owned by WarnerMedia and is considered to be a pioneer of cable television in economic, technical and artistic terms . In the 1990s and 2000s in particular, the company with its series formats was considered to be an artistically leader. In 2016, the company had over 130 million subscribers in over 70 countries worldwide , and in-house productions are licensed in over 150 countries.


Foundation and consolidation (1965–1977)

The forerunner of HBO is the Sterling Manhattan Cable , founded in 1965 by Charles Dolan , which was the first television company in the USA to lay its cable system underground. The reason for this was the shadowing of the radio signals by the tall buildings in New York. Immediately thereafter, Time Life took a 20% stake in the company. Shortly afterwards, Dolan presented his idea of ​​the "Green Channel" as a "cable channel without cables" to Time Life and received support from management for its development. The signal was sent over a microwave network, satellite transmissions were not technically feasible at that time. On November 8, 1972, the "HBO" christened station with the broadcast of the film Sometimes a Great Notion and the transmission of an ice hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks to 365 subscriber households in Wilkes-Barre , Pennsylvania the start.

Because Sterling Manhattan only had 20,000 customers, all in Manhattan, the company failed to become profitable. Time Life increased its stake to 80%, discontinued the company as a broadcaster and renamed it Manhattan Cable Television . After only three months, Gerald Levin replaced founder Charles Dolan as President and CEO in March 1973; In September of that year, Time Life took over the company completely and shortly afterwards HBO was available on a total of 14 networks in New York and Pennsylvania.

At that time, HBO's offer was still brokered by the operators of local cable networks; it usually cost end customers $ 6 a month, of which HBO received $ 3.50. The extremely high fluctuation of customers was problematic. Since the program consisted of the same films over and over again, viewers quickly got tired of it and canceled after a few weeks. HBO responded by testing a system in Lawrence, Massachusetts , that gave customers a four-week free preview before the offer was encrypted on another channel. This system then established itself as a distribution model for both HBO and other pay TV channels. Further obstacles to growth were the fragmentary technical infrastructure and massive content regulations by the federal authorities. Only after these obstacles had been removed through the expansion of the infrastructure and the lifting of regulations (partly through legal action) did greater growth potential arise in this market.

On October 1, 1975, HBO was the first television station in the world to transmit its broadcast signal via a satellite connection with the " Thrilla in Manila ", the famous boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier . For HBO, however, it was not the technical performance that was important, but the abruptly created opportunity to feed the broadcast signal across the board into isolated cable networks and thus cover the whole country, which enormously increased the sales market. HBO had paid 7.5 million dollars for access to Satcom 1 , the corresponding satellite, a large sum for the station, which at the time was not yet economically stable due to its manageable customer base.

Gary Edgerton sees this decision as the reason for the success of HBO in the following decade, and Levin's approach paid off. In 1976, in the first "satellite year", the HBO customer base grew from 15,000 to almost 290,000 subscribers, by the end of 1977 to around 600,000 and in 1977 HBO was able to make profits for the first time. With its tremendous growth, HBO became the driving force behind the fledgling cable market, which grew from 50,000 to 1.5 million customers in the United States from 1974 to 1978.

Market leadership and growth (1978–1982)

Since its inception, HBO has pursued a clear programming strategy, according to which it specialized in playing high-quality movies and special events (e.g. sports) that viewers could see unabridged and without commercial breaks. At the same time, taking advantage of the offer was still a luxury that was booked on a monthly basis, so cable channels were subject to pressure to repeatedly convince customers to book the offer by regularly offering new films and similarly high-quality content.

After 1978 teleprompter , the then largest cable operator of the US, an exclusive agreement with Viacom , the parent of HBO's strongest competitor Showtime had been completed and so HBO hit sensitive in its growth strategy, the parent company Time bought for 145 million US dollars the second largest cable operator American Television & Communications and thus secured the channel's growth opportunities. But HBO also developed in terms of content; for example, there were the first smaller in-house productions such as sitcoms (with Robin Williams and Pee-Wee Herman as newcomers, among others ). At the same time, thanks to its good capital base, HBO was also able to secure the broadcasting rights for major films that attracted new customers. For example, the broadcaster acquired a package of 40 films from MGM / United Artists for around 35 million dollars . HBO's approach to the production of films was more prone to conflict. In exchange for up-front funding, HBO received exclusive pay-TV broadcast rights, which was both risky if the film flopped and angered the film industry, which was harassed by the action.

The introduction of a second channel called Cinemax in 1980 also strengthened HBO's dominant position, as Cinemax was significantly cheaper than HBO itself and thus continued to attack its biggest competitor Showtime . In 1982 HBO had 9.8 million customers, almost half of the total pay-TV market, with sales of $ 440 million and profits of around $ 100 million. This made HBO three times the size of Showtime, which resulted in enormous advantages when purchasing broadcast rights.

Program strategy in transition (1983–1995)

At the end of 1982, HBO founded Tri-Star Pictures as a new film studio in equal shares with Columbia Pictures and CBS , HBO received the pay-TV rights for the corresponding films. At the same time, the station intensified its own production activities. In 1983 he aired the first cable TV movie, The Terry Fox Story , a biopic about the life of Canadian athlete Terry Fox . In the same year, HBO was able to report another record with 13.4 million viewers, but at the same time problems emerged for the first time. In large cities and potential growth markets such as Chicago , Philadelphia , Detroit and Baltimore, there was a lack of cable networks, the increasing spread of video recorders led to an alternative offer, especially in view of the rising prices for cable offers, and last but not least, HBO proved to be increasingly less adept at negotiating broadcasting rights. The market share of HBO fell from 50.4 (June 1983) to 48.1 percent (June 1984), and at the same time the profit margins collapsed.

Time tried to counter the crisis with a change at the top: Frank J. Biondi gave way to Michael J. Fuchs as CEO. Fuchs laid off 125 employees, cut costs in general and started a large advertising campaign. In addition, he also renegotiated the recently concluded Tri-Star contract. In this context, HBO also gave up the exclusive rights to many films, because it had come to the view that exclusive rights were usually not worth the additional costs. This became a problem when its competitor Showtime announced as a new strategy that they wanted to show films exclusively in the future or not at all. This heated up the market and thus thwarted HBO's savings plans, which had to purchase more content exclusively than wanted and at the same time generally had to pay higher prices for films than had been hoped for. Even so, Fuchs' efforts were successful: in 1985, HBO had 14.6 million customers and sales of more than $ 800 million.

"Captain Midnight" interrupted broadcast, April 1986
$ 12.95 / MONTH?

In 1986, HBO was the first broadcaster to digitally encrypt its broadcast signal using the so-called Videocipher-II process, so that only paying customers could follow the program. Before that, there was a loophole where anyone who owned a satellite dish could intercept the signal that HBO used to deliver the program to cable operators via satellite. Four months later, on April 27, 1986, there was an incident in which television technician John R. MacDougall, under the pseudonym Captain Midnight , used a satellite dish to interrupt the broadcast signal from HBO for several minutes and put his own in its place, one Declaration of protest against a price increase in front of a test image.

In 1989, Viacom sued HBO for $ 2.4 billion in damages, accusing HBO of attempting to intimidate Showtime from cable operators and attempt to dominate Hollywood films. The lawsuit hurt not only HBO, but the entire cable television industry as a result of the political drive to regulate the market more closely at the time. It was not until August 1992, after tens of millions of euros in legal costs on both sides, that the parties found a settlement. In addition to some financial concessions from Time Warner to Viacom, Time Warner assured a stronger presence of the Viacom channels in its cable networks. In addition, both companies agreed on a joint image campaign for cable television, as it had been affected. Last but not least, HBO was also sued by Broadcast Music Incorporated , a musical collecting society that considered the fee rate HBO paid for music used to be too low. In January 1991, this legal dispute was settled by increasing the rate from 12 to 15 cents per HBO customer.

In 1989 there was also a further diversification of the offer when HBO founded "The Comedy Channel". The station specialized only in the broadcast of comedy, a concept that was often panned by the critics and was not accepted by the audience or the cable network operators despite extensive advertising. The situation worsened when Viacom established the alternative offer "HA!" In 1991, which not only showed excerpts of comedy because the cable network operators did not subscribe to either of the two offers, but waited to see who would prevail, which paralyzed the market. The situation only resolved when both channels were surprisingly merged into " Comedy Central ".

The Bewke's Era (1995-2002)

With the spread of video recorders in the mid-1980s, the previous programming strategy had run out of steam. Customers could not only watch films without advertising and unabridged, but independently, at any time and selected from a considerably larger selection, an important argument in favor of cable television was eliminated. HBO responded to this challenge with a redefinition of its own program, which made in-house productions an additional pillar in the future. The then CEO Michael Fuchs said, "If there had ever been a debate at HBO about how much we should spend on in-house productions, then the debate with the VCR would have ended."

Despite this statement, Fuchs had always acted according to the creed that HBO had to offer its subscribers a wide range of content that nobody else showed on television, and had placed the emphasis above all on high-quality films. His orientation was strongly profit-oriented, his management style was more hierarchical. All of these factors had caused HBO to stagnate. Gerald Levin, now president of mother Time Warner, exchanged him for Jeffrey Bewkes in November 1995 .

In retrospect, Bewkes described that moment by saying, “When I became CEO of HBO in 1995, everyone said that pay TV was dead. The number of cable subscribers barely grew, people rented videos instead of watching pay-TV films, it started with DVDs and pay-per-view… ”. Bewkes wanted to move away from the idea of ​​Hollywood films as something special in the program. HBO was supposed to create its own content more than ever before, namely a "bold, completely different television" that was to become a special feature of the program for viewers. To do this, HBO had to be rebuilt. Bewkes aimed to create an open working atmosphere in which creatives would feel comfortable, and in particular created series that had subscribers return to the television week after week.

The first such series was Tom Fontana's Oz - Hell Behind Bars , a prison series that ran from 1997. Oz was a model for the coming years at HBO artistically, an "introduction to what would soon become HBO's clear philosophy of its own dramatic series." It used all the freedom that had arisen because HBO, as a pure subscriber broadcaster, is not subject to the supervision and restrictions of the FCC . Sex scenes, nudity, excessive violence or " explicit language " with sexual allusions as well as curses were an integral part of the repertoire embedded in high-quality narration that did not shy away from addressing social taboos and addressing them confidently. Complemented by a good staging, the series succeeded in convincing the critics and attracting a steady audience, and it only ended after six seasons in 2003.


Channels under the HBO brand names (including the Cinemax brand ) can be received in over 70 countries worldwide, primarily in Latin America, Central Europe and Asia. There are no HBO channels in Germany and Austria; The reason given by the head of HBO International , Simon Sutton, in 2009, was that the niche of quality television used by HBO in the USA was already occupied by public service broadcasting . In 2012, Sky Deutschland opened the Sky Atlantic HD channel , which advertises with the subtitle The Home of HBO and is largely based on its repertoire. Sky Atlantic HD joins the ranks of numerous broadcasters in 150 countries around the world that license programs from HBO.


HBO currently offers its program in English-speaking countries with different focuses on the following channels:

  • HBO
  • HBO 2
  • HBO comedy
  • HBO Family - children and family programs
  • HBO Latino - HBO broadcasts in Spanish and originally Spanish-language programs
  • HBO Signature
  • HBO zone

HBO subscribers can use the streaming internet service HBO Go and the changing video-on-demand offer HBO On Demand . The latter can be associated with additional costs, depending on the cable network operator and the subscription package selected . Selected current and older programs from HBO's programming are made available for about one month for HBO On Demand and can be viewed indefinitely during this period; the offer is updated every Monday. Since April 2015, subscribers to the video-on-demand service HBO Now have also been able to access HBO's complete range of programs, films and other content. The offer is limited to customers from the USA. As announced in June 2019, the new streaming service from HBO and Warner Bros will be " HBO Max ". The addition "Max" in the name "HBO Max" is intended to indicate a maximization in the form of Warner Bros content, so that the customer can find two well-known brands under one roof.


In particular, the quality TV series produced by HBO since the mid-1990s are considered to be style-defining. Christoph Dreher described them as “unprecedentedly complex and profound works that for the first time in film history represent something like an equivalent to great epic novels in world literature”.

Other HBO productions


The station's own productions, created by HBO Films , have been successful in many cases and have received many awards. In the ten years up to 2004, he received more Emmys than all other television channels combined. Numerous documentaries nominated for an Oscar first ran on HBO.

Web links

Commons : Home Box Office  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Home Box Office - Our Content - Time Warner , timewarner.com, accessed November 4, 2011
  2. a b c d Gary R. Edgerton: Introduction: A Brief History of HBO , in: Gary R. Edgerton, Jeffrey P. Jones (Eds.): The Essential HBO Reader , ISBN 978-0-8131-2452-0 , 2008, pp. 1–22
  3. a b c d e f Introduction , In: Marc Leverette, Brian L. Ott, Cara Louise Buckley (Eds.): It's not TV: watching HBO in the post-television era , ISBN 0-203-92886-5 , p 1-11
  4. a b c d e f g h i j International Directory of Company Histories , Vol. 23, St. James Press, 1998, quoted from: www.fundinguniverse.com: Home Box Office Inc.- Company History , accessed on 22. October 2011
  5. a b c Gary R. Edgerton, Jeffrey P. Jones: HBO's Ongoing Legacy , in: Gary R. Edgerton, Jeffrey P. Jones (Eds.): The Essential HBO Reader , ISBN 978-0-8131-2452-0 , 2008, pp. 1–22
  6. a b Christopher Anderson: Overview: Producing an Aristocracy of Culture in American Television , in: Gary R. Edgerton, Jeffrey P. Jones (Eds.): The Essential HBO Reader , ISBN 978-0-8131-2452-0 , 2008 , Pp. 23-41
  7. ^ Helene Laube: Head of the day: Jeff Bewkes: Der Reanimateur | FTD.de ( Memento from August 2, 2012 in the web archive archive.today ) , ftd.de, accessed on March 31, 2012
  8. Michele Malach: Oz , in: Gary R. Edgerton, Jeffrey P. Jones (Eds.): The Essential HBO Reader , ISBN 978-0-8131-2452-0 , 2008, pp. 52-60
  9. medienforum.nrw 2009: Why we don't get our own HBO ... , serienjunkies.de, accessed on March 30, 2013
  10. The Home of HBO: Sky Deutschland launches exclusive channel Sky Atlantic HD , info.sky.de from March 12, 2013, accessed on March 30, 2013
  11. ^ Television. In: hbo.com. Retrieved September 18, 2012 (English, HBO website).
  12. HBO Go. In: hbo.com. Retrieved September 18, 2012 .
  13. ^ What is HBO On Demand. Frequently Asked Questions. In: hboondemand.com. Retrieved September 18, 2012 (HBO On Demand website).
  14. Can I watch HBO NOW outside of the United States? Retrieved March 7, 2017 (American English).
  15. ^ "HBO max" - First information about the new Warner Bros streaming service. Retrieved July 11, 2019 (de-US).
  16. Christoph Dreher: The privilege of a natural death - The American pay TV broadcaster HBO is revolutionizing film and television In: Spex , 07, 2007, pp. 122–126.
  17. sz magazine 17/2005