The Success of HBO

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HBO has always been innovative. It was the first cable channel to specialise in films—the initials stand for “Home Box Office”—and the first channel to be delivered via satellite. In 1991 HBO pioneered “multiplexing”, a way of distributing multiple channels without using more bandwidth. The offering for which HBO is now mostly known—original series—developed slowly. In the late 1980s it carried a gleefully unpleasant show called “Tales from the Crypt”. In 1992 it launched “The Larry Sanders Show”, a dyspeptic comedy about a talk-show host. Its first hour-long drama, “Oz”, began in 1997.

By the early 2000s it had “The Sopranos”, “Sex and the City” and “The Wire” as well as ambitious mini-series like “Band of Brothers”. In the process it garnered a prodigious number of Emmy nominations, the television Oscars—104 this year, far more than anyone else. It also makes money, turning over $4 billion in 2010, estimates SNL Kagan, a research outfit. But the future looks more uncertain for HBO and its pay-TV rivals. Last year the proportion of America’s population that pays for television dropped for the first time.( economist)

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