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HBO To Start Online Only Streaming Service

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For a lot of people, the main reason to pay for cable and satellite TV comes down to three letters - HBO. The channel produces some of the most watched and talked about shows on television today. So when HBO announced plans yesterday for an online-only streaming service, many in the industry called it a game-changer. NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: OK. Imagine you never got around to watching the much celebrated HBO cop show "True Detective."

(SOUNDBITE OF COP CAR)

ULABY: If you didn't watch it the old-fashioned way on the box at home, you could use HBO's streaming service - HBO GO - to fire it up online. But to get it, you had to subscribe to HBO through your cable provider or know someone willing to share their password. This new service will cut the cord, and the announcement surprised industry watchers like Alan Wolk.

ALAN WOLK: Yes, very much, very much, a lot of people were.

ULABY: Wolk says HBO had a good deal with cable companies; they handled distribution and collected money from subscribers. Now the new streaming service has to figure all of that out. Wolk says HBO's aiming for the 10 million households that watch shows on broadband only.

WOLK: It seems like a fairly small number because they're not going to get all of them.

ULABY: And it's not clear what anyone who subscribes to the new service will see. This past spring, HBO licensed much of its back catalog to Amazon Prime. So if there's no "Six Feet Under" or "The Sopranos," Wolk says the new streaming service might be a kind of HBO-light; - still a smart way to sell to millennials and the cord-cutters who've been reluctant to pay for it.

WOLK: This is just sort of a gateway drug that will get them hooked on this HBO-light, and then they'll come to use the full package.

ULABY: Then again, Wolk says, the new HBO streaming service could undermine cable's channel bundles and give viewers more control. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.