Is This a Netflix Killer?

The moment of truth is approaching for Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) .

Next month, existing subscribers will be dealing with the video buffet operator's new pricing that raises prices by as much as 60%.

The climate has never been better for a potential competitor to catch disgruntled couch potatoes, and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) HBO is in a better position than you think.

Time Warner rolled out HBO Go -- its on-demand streaming service covering the premium cable channel's proprietary programming -- shortly after Time Warner became part of the TV Everywhere initiative.

Things have been heating up lately. HBO Go became available for smartphones and tablets on Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android platforms in May.

The app has been downloaded nearly 4 million times, and the company's research shows that 85% of its HBO Go users are watching more of the real-time cable channel than they did before. In other words, the app isn't cannibalizing the actual channel.

"Over the rest of the year, we'll widen the availability of HBO Go to include connected TVs, game consoles, and other connected devices," CEO Jeff Bewkes said during yesterday's quarterly conference call.

This isn't just some stateside experiment. HBO Go is available throughout Central Europe -- where Netflix does not have a presence. HBO Go will also be launching in Brazil and Mexico -- where Netflix is going -- later this year. Next year? Asia awaits.

The rub for Netflix is that Time Warner makes HBO Go available at no additional cost to existing subscribers. In fact, that's the only way to access the service. It's not available as a stand-alone offering -- for now.

Cable providers and broadcasters don't see HBO Go as a threat the way they view Netflix because HBO is not available unless it's ordered in addition to an existing cable plan.

Obviously HBO Go will never offer the breadth of content available through Netflix's $7.99 a month streaming plan -- or even the 8,000 titles that are available to Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Prime subscribers at no additional cost.

However, Time Warner is using the same tactic Netflix perfected over the past four years by positioning streaming as a loyalty bonus. It will keep HBO popular and relevant, even during the programming lulls.

Couch potatoes don't have infinite streaming time, and HBO Go -- for the tens of millions of HBO subscribers -- will tweak the perceived value of Netflix's stand-alone streaming plan.

Things just keep getting more interesting in the streaming video space.

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The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Google, Amazon.com, and Apple, as well as buying puts in Netflix and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix shareholder -- and subscriber -- since 2002. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2011, at 11:30 AM, David369 wrote:

    Hard to believe that NFLX used to only have to worry about Blockbuster as competition. Now they have lions and tigers and bears converging on them.

  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2011, at 3:21 PM, chadscards1274 wrote:

    Have to disagree with the premise, there are two problems. To say that, "HBO Go will never offer the breadth of content of Netflix $7.99 a month streaming plan" is vastly understating it. In addition it's not as though HBO is available without cost. The reality is you only get HBO by adding this option to an existing cable service. This existing cable service isn't cheap and HBO by itself is an added cost. While it's true that couch potatoes don't have unlimited time there is I believe a vast divide between those who have HBO and also are interested and have a device capable of streaming versus those who don't even have HBO and thus this is not even competition.

    I do believe NFLX has a tough time coming up but it's more about the difference in pricing, paying up for content and if I were Reed Hastings I would be more concerned with who is going to end up with Hulu (a direct competitor) or worry about how many more content deals Amazon is willing to pony up for. Those are your two direct threats, HBO Go is an afterthought.

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