HBO (Home Box Office) is an American premium cable television network, owned by Time Warner, under the operating subsidiary Home Box Office Inc. As of January 2012, HBO’s programming reaches 29 million subscribers in the United States, making it the second largest premium network in the United States (Encore’s programming reaches 33.2 million subscribers as of March 2012).In addition to its U.S. subscriber base, HBO also broadcasts in at least 151 countries worldwide.HBO’s programming consists primarily of theatrically released motion pictures and original series, along with made-for-cable movies and documentaries, boxing matches, and occasional stand-up comedy and concert specials.In 1965, Charles Dolan, who had already done pioneering work in the commercial use of cables, won a franchise to build a cable system in Lower Manhattan in New York. The new system, which Dolan called “Sterling Manhattan Cable”, became the first urban underground cable system in the United States. Rather than stringing cable on telephone poles or using microwave antennas to receive the signals, Sterling laid underground cable beneath the streets of Manhattan — because the multitude of tall buildings blocked television signals. In the same year Time-Life, Inc. purchased 20 percent of Dolan’s company.
Dolan presented his “The Green Channel” idea to Time-Life management, and though satellite distribution seemed only a distant possibility at the time, he persuaded Time Life to back him. Later on 8 November 1972, “The Green Channel” became “Home Box Office (HBO)”. HBO began using a network of microwave relay towers to distribute its programming.The first program and film broadcast on HBO, Sometimes a Great Notion, starred Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. It transmitted with a CATV system in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (a plaque commemorating this event is found in Wilkes-Barre’s downtown Public Square). HBO’s first sports event was broadcast immediately afterwards, an NHL hockey game from Madison Square Garden featuring the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks.Sterling Manhattan Cable lost money because the company had only a small subscriber base of 20,000 customers in Manhattan. Dolan’s media partner, Time-Life, Inc., gained 80-percent control of Sterling and decided to pull the plug on the Sterling Manhattan operation. Time Life dropped the Sterling name to become Manhattan Cable Television and gained control of HBO in March 1973. Gerald Levin replaced Dolan as HBO’s President and Chief Executive Officer. In September 1973, Time-Life, Inc. completed its acquisition of the pay service. HBO was soon the fastest growing TV pay service in America, but the churn rate was exceptionally high. Subscribers would sample the service for a few weeks, get weary of seeing the same films, and then cancel. HBO was struggling and something had to be done. When HBO first came to Lawrence, Massachusetts, the idea was to allow subscribers to preview the service for free on channel 3. After a month, the service moved to channel 6 and was scrambled. The preview proved popular, obtaining many subscriptions and the concept was used elsewhere.On September 30, 1975, HBO became the first TV network to continuously deliver signals via satellite when it showed the “Thrilla in Manila” boxing-match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.HBO switched its domestic satellite transmissions from Westar 1 to Satcom 1 in February 1976 and by 1977 was joined by Ted Turner’s Atlanta superstation WTCG-TV (soon to become WTBS) and Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (later to become the present-day ABC Family), laying the foundation for satellite delivery in the modern cable television industry.The network had broadcast only for nine hours a day for its first nine years on air, from 3 p.m. to midnight ET. In September 1981, HBO began broadcasting a 24-hour schedule on weekends, until midnight ET on Sunday nights. On December 28, 1981, HBO expanded its programming schedule to 24 hours a day, seven days per week (Cinemax had a 24-hour schedule from its launch, and Showtime and The Movie Channel went to a 24-hour schedule earlier). On August 1, 1980, HBO launched a companion network, Cinemax, a movie-based pay service created as HBO’s answer to The Movie Channel; in its early years, Cinemax carried music specials and some limited original programming such as SCTV and Max Headroom, in addition to movies, but the network has since become known for airing softcore adult films and series during its late night schedule, and has forayed into original programming with the addition of weekly action series to its lineup in August 2011.In 1983, HBO’s first original movie and the first made-for-pay-TV movie The Terry Fox Story premiered. That year also saw the premiere of the first kids’ show broadcast on the channel: Fraggle Rock; HBO continued to air various original programs aimed at children until 2001, when such programs were almost completely moved over to HBO Family. HBO became involved in several legal suits during the 1980s; these involved cable systems and legal statutes imposed by state and city laws that would have censored some programming on HBO and other pay-TV networks. In January 1986, HBO also became the first satellite network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by way of the Videocipher II System. Four months later, HBO became a victim of broadcast signal intrusion when satellite TV dealer John R. MacDougall, a man calling himself “Captain Midnight”, intercepted the network’s signal during a movie presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The Federal Communications Commission subsequently prosecuted MacDougall.In 1987, HBO launched a short-lived channel, Festival. Festival featured classic movies and recent hit movies, along with specials and documentaries from HBO. Distinctively, Festival’s programmers aimed to provide family-friendly fare; R-rated movies were edited for broadcast and only high-quality series, specials and movies were shown. Also, the pricing for subscribing to the channel was cheaper than HBO and Cinemax. Only a few cable systems carried Festival and the channel shut down in late 1988.In 1988, HBO’s userbase expanded greatly on account of the Writers Guild of America going on strike; HBO had new programming while standard television channels could only broadcast reruns. In 1989, HBO compared programming against pay-television network Showtime, with the slogan “Nobody Brings it Home Like HBO”, using the Tina Turner single “The Best”.
When Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications in 1989, HBO became part of Time Warner (which as of 2011, continues to serve as the parent company of the network). Coincidentally, Warner Communications had created rival The Movie Channel (now owned by CBS Corporation) in the late 1970s before Viacom, which purchased a 50% stake in The Movie Channel in 1983, bought Warner’s remaining half-ownership of that network in 1985.In 1991, HBO and Cinemax became the first premium services to offer multiplexing to cable customers.Providing multiple options of HBO and Cinemax instead of just single channel services, HBO2 (renamed HBO Plus from 1998 to 2002) and Cinemax 2 (known as MoreMax since 1998) debuted to three cable systems in Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas. The move proved successful, resulting in HBO and Cinemax launching additional multiplex channels of its service, HBO 3 (launched in 1995, renamed HBO Signature in 1998), HBO Family (launched in 1996), HBO Comedy & HBO Zone (launched in 1999) and HBO Latino, a Latin-themed channel of HBO (launched in 2000). Cinemax also launched the multiplex services Cinemax 3 (launched in 1996, ActionMax in 1998), ThrillerMax (launched in 1998) and WMax, @Max, OuterMax and 5StarMax (all launched in 2001). In 1993, HBO became the world’s first digitally transmitted television service. HBO.com, subsequently well known for its online web shows, launched in 1995.Before 1997, HBO did know success to some extent with shows such as Tales from the Crypt, Dream On, Tracey Takes On…, Mr. Show, and Arliss. HBO did have a series that gained major success although not commercially as successful as shows on the Big Three networks and Fox the show did enjoy a cult status, critical acclaim, and did get nominated for and won many major awards. This series is The Larry Sanders Show and the show is arguably HBO’s flagship series during the 90’s and possibly the entire HBO time period before 1997. The show is the only HBO comedy to make TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list and it was also on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Best TV Shows of All Time and is ranked by various critics and fans as one of the best TV comedies of the 1990s.The series ranked #38 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, the only HBO comedy to make the list. It was also included in Time magazine’s list of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time.” Other shows which subsequently aired on HBO, such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras, and Entourage, have used traits from the show.HBO has developed many original programs before and since 1997, which has earned the channel numerous Emmy awards.As a subscription-only service, HBO does not carry “normal” commercials; instead the network runs promotions for upcoming HBO programs and behind-the-scenes featurettes between programs. This relieves HBO from some pressures to tone down controversial aspects of its programs, and allows for explicit content, such as graphic violence, sex, and profanity, to be aired.Beginning in 1997, with its first one-hour dramatic narrative series Oz, HBO started a trend that became commonplace with premium cable providers. Although critically acclaimed, it was not until 1999, when their second one-hour narrative series The Sopranos premiered, that the network achieved both critical mass and Emmy success. In its six-season run, The Sopranos received 111 Emmy nominations, resulting in 21 wins – two of them for the Emmy for Best Drama. In 1999, HBO became the first national cable TV network to broadcast a high-definition simulcast channel. In July 2001, HBO launched the first premium subscription video-on-demand enhancement in the United States, called HBO on Demand, to Time Warner Cable subscribers in Columbia, South Carolina. A few years later in 2002, HBO launched a new show called The Wire; that although it did not surpass The Sopranos’ ratings-wise, it did however surpass it critically and academically and further cemented HBO’s reputation as being a network that produced quality programming. The series ran for five seasons over six years.HBO subscribers generally pay for an extra “tier” of service even before paying for the channel itself (though HBO often prices all of its channels together in a single package). However, federal law requires that a cable system allow a person to get just basic cable, local broadcast channels, Public, educational, and government access (PEG) Channels and HBO, without subscribing to expanded service. Cable systems can require the use of a converter box (usually digital) to receive HBO.Other networks and local syndication have re-aired several HBO programs (usually after some editing), and a number of HBO works have become available on DVD. Since HBO’s more successful series (most notably Sex and the City, The Sopranos, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and True Blood) air on non-cable networks in other countries, such as in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and much of Europe, HBO programming has the potential of exposure to a higher percentage of the population of those countries as compared to the United States. Because of the high cost of HBO, many Americans only view HBO programs on DVDs or in basic cable or broadcast syndication, months or even years after the network has first broadcast the programs, and with editing for advertising time and content, although several series have filmed alternate ‘clean’ scenes meant for syndication runs.HBO has a long-held policy not to run R-rated films on its primary channel between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET/PT; this policy (which may have once stemmed from HBO’s availability on analog cable tiers, while its multiplex channels generally required digital cable or at least scrambling) remains in place as of 2012, despite the existence of the V-chip and other premium services having incorporated R-rated films onto their daytime schedules starting in the mid-1980s. The policy was also applied to all TV-MA rated programs after the TV Parental Guidelines went into effect in January 1997, though the main HBO channel began airing a limited amount of TV-MA rated original series, movies and documentaries that contain some strong profanity and violence, but are largely devoid of nudity and graphic violent or sexual content on weekends before 8 p.m. in 2010.Outside of HBO Family, which does not run any programs with either rating, HBO’s other multiplex channels will air TV-MA and R-rated programming in morning and afternoon time periods.
September 22, 2012