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...because it’s not TV. It’s…well, okay, it’s the leading pay network in the United States. HBO originally began as a specialty channel devoted to movies and live events, but eventually created its own first run series of original programs. Broadcast outside the restrictions of network censorship, HBO’s shows have amassed a huge following worldwide for their ability to deliver unedited content – just try to imagine what “Sex and the City” or “Game of Thrones” might look like on CBS. The network has also been on the cutting edge of technology, much to the enjoyment of HBO Go and HBO Now users.
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By now, HBO is basically considered the gold standard among television networks worldwide. As a subscription based content provider, HBO has freed itself from much of the censorship and restrictions that apply even to other cable networks. If users don’t appreciate HBO’s programming choices, not only do they not have to watch the offensive material, they can also unsubscribe from the service (which they would have had to request in the first place, so really, the fault is entirely on them). The network originally began as a way to air uncut films and specialty sporting events, which still makes up a majority of the content across all the channels. In addition to movies, sports and original programming, the network also has been and continues to be a leading producer of and distribution platform for documentary films.
It’s great that HBO still shows movies and special events. But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t shelling out monthly fees just for that. HBO’s reputation today rests largely on its groundbreaking original series. With “Oz,” “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” the network proved that it could deliver cutting edge shows. It also established HBO as a good home for content creators. Alan Ball, fresh off winning an Oscar for writing "American Beauty," decided HBO offered the right environment for his follow-up project, the acclaimed series “Six Feet Under.” While the network certainly has passed up some good projects, most notably "Mad Men," it is still the place for high quality shows geared towards adult audiences. Series like “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” “True Detective” and “Silicon Valley” continue to earn admiration from critics, audiences and most importantly, subscribers.
Part of HBO’s success lies in its embrace of new technological changes. The network was one of the first to broadcast its signal via satellite. When cable piracy was an issue, the network scrambled its entire output, leaving pre-internet teenage boys squinting to find naked women amid the color waves. The network also pioneered “multiplexing” to expand its content across multiple channels without using more bandwidth. And most importantly today, HBO has quickly turned to digital distribution of its content through HBO Go for cable subscribers. The more recent standalone HBO Now service also allowed the network to supply content to fed up Time Warner customers, or those who simply want to see their beloved dragons and white walkers without paying for three hundred other channels they will never watch.
In 1986, HBO became the first TV station that scrambled its entire output, so it couldn’t be pirated. This set the network apart as a premium service that had to be purchased. HBO’s decision to encrypt made the ownership of original content, and its protection, a byword of US cultural capitalism.
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