Contrary to popular belief, Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) doesn't need to make HBO GO a standalone subscription service to profit from hits such as Game of Thrones and True Blood.

Allowing current-season addicts to purchase season passes via Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes or's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Instant Video could add millions in new revenue without damaging Warner's relationships with cable operators.

A game of cash and carry
Fools know I've been critical of HBO GO. Not because the app isn't useful. Far from it. The problem is one of synchronicity: HBO GO only works on tablets and smartphones. You can't start an episode on your TV, move to your computer, and then move to a tablet without losing your place. HBO badly lags Netflix in this area.

Meanwhile, a look at Warner's most recent 10-K annual report shows the company's Networks segment generated $8.67 billion in revenue. HBO has 114 million subscribers worldwide. Thus, it's likely Warner receives at least $76 a year, or $6 per month, from each HBO cable subscriber.

What would happen to that stream if Warner agreed to let Apple and Amazon sell current-season passes? Consider what we know about Game of Thrones and True Blood, which returns to HBO for a sixth season on June 16:

  • More than 17 million on Facebook say they "like" these shows.

  • Each show attracts more than 4.5 million viewers regularly.

  • Fans illegally downloaded 1 million copies of the Game of Thrones Season 3 premiere.

  • A Twitter campaign in which customers were asked what they'd spend monthly for a distinct HBO GO service generated more than 163,000 responses within 48 hours.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, the "Mother of Dragons." Photo credit: HBO.

As I see it, HBO's viewing restrictions limit the potential audience for both GoT and True Blood.

Going a step further, let's say those 1 million downloaders reflect the number of current HBO subscribers who would flee to iTunes or Amazon Instant Video for their fix. What would they pay? Several participating in the #takemymoneyhbo Twitter campaign named $15 to $20 a month as a fair price for HBO GO as a standalone service.

My guess is a plurality of this same group would be willing to commit $180 to $240 for current-season downloads priced at a premium cable operators could (grudgingly) accept. If I'm right, HBO would give up $76 million to cord-cutters for the chance to earn at least twice that from downloaders.

Think I'm crazy? Let's put this idea to a vote.

Let's say HBO were to decide to sell Season 4 passes of Game of Thrones for $59.99 each ahead of next year's premiere, or $17 more than AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX) currently demands for its hit The Walking Dead. Would you buy? Why or why not?

Please mark your selection in the poll below, and then leave a comment to let us know which HBO shows you'd most want to see made available for current season download.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple, Netflix, and Time Warner at the time of publication. He was also long January 2014 $50 Netflix call options. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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