Home Box Office

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For alternate meanings of "HBO", see HBO (disambiguation).

HBO (Home Box Office) is a premium cable television network. HBO airs theatrically released feature films, self-produced full-length television movies, and various original series. Some of its popular series past and present include The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Entourage, Deadwood and Curb Your Enthusiasm. HBO broadcasts boxing matches under the banner name HBO Boxing.


File:HBO 1970s.jpg
HBO logo used from 1975-1980.

HBO was the first cable network to originate as a non-terrestrial broadcast TV network. In reality, it all started in 1965, after cable pioneer and visionary Charles Francis Dolan won the franchise to build a cable system in lower Manhattan. He called the new system Sterling Manhattan Cable. Sterling Manhattan Cable was the nation's first urban underground cable system. Instead of laying cable through telephone poles and using microwave antennas to receive the signals, Sterling took the task of laying underground cable beneath the streets of Manhattan because television signals were blocked by many tall buildings.

Time Life, Inc., in the same year, purchased only 20 percent of Dolan's company. In early 1970, looking for new revenue sources, Mr. Dolan came up with the idea of creating a Green channel for which subscribers would pay extra to receive uncut commercial-free movies and sports coverage. To help run his new project, Dolan hired a young attorney named Gerald Levin, who had experience in contracting for televised films and sporting events as his Vice President of Programming.

Dolan presented his "Green Channel" idea to Time Life management where satellite distribution was only a distant possibility at the time, however, he got Time Life, to back him, and soon "The Green Channel" became Home Box Office on November 8, 1972. HBO began using microwave to feed its programming. The first program aired over the pay-channel was a New York Rangers / Vancouver Canucks game, to a CATV system in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

Sterling Manhattan Cable was rapidly losing money because the company had 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 on 14 systems in New York and Pennsylvania, 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.

In 1975, HBO became the first TV network to broadcast its signals via satellite when it showed the "Thrilla in Manila" boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. On December 28, 1981, HBO expanded its programming schedule to 24 hours a day, seven days per week. In January 1986, HBO also became the first satellite network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by way of the Videocipher II System. Later, HBO was one of the first cable TV networks to broadcast a high-definition version of its channel.

Originally, HBO was part of Time Inc.. When Time merged with Warner Communications in 1989, it became part of Time Warner, who serves as its parent company today.

HBO also manages sister network Cinemax, which focuses more on movies and less on original series. Cinemax (or "skinamax" and "sinamax" in some circles) has been accused of being an outlet for soft-core pornography during late night hours.

HBO has also developed a reputation for offering very high quality original programming. HBO is a subscription-only service and does not carry normal commercials; both of these factors relieve HBO from pressures to tone down controversial aspects in their programs, thus allowing for explicit themes, such as graphic violence, explicit sex, and profanity.

The network is currently received in roughly one-third of households in the United States. It can be quite expensive to acquire HBO because subscribers are often required to pay for an extra "tier" of service even before paying for the channel itself (though all of the HBO channels are often priced together in a single package). Someone upgrading from a standard cable package might see their bill increase more than 40%.

Since TV critics are generally obliged to keep track of HBO, but the general public is not, the network's influence can be overstated. However, several HBO programs have been re-aired on other networks (usually after some editing), and a number of them are available on DVD. Interestingly, since HBO's more successful series, most notably the trio of Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under, are broadcast on non-cable networks in other countries, such as in the United Kingdom and Australia, HBO programming has the potential to be seen by a higher percentage of the population of those countries as compared to the U.S. Because of the high cost of HBO, many Americans only view HBO programs on DVDs or videotapes, months or even years after the network has first broadcast the programs.

HBO has several companion channels such as HBO 2, HBO Comedy, HBO Family, HBO Latino, HBO Signature, and HBO Zone. HBO also operates several Cinemax spinoffs, including MoreMAX, ThrillerMAX, ActionMAX and OuterMAX.

HBO has international operations in Latin America, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Pakistan and India. It had also an early investment in New Zealand's SKY Network Television through the channel HBO (now Sky Movies).

HBO also had a couple of joint ventures, first, with the formation of TriStar Pictures with Columbia Pictures and CBS. Columbia later bought the 2/3rds interest of the studio. Then, HBO merged its Comedy Channel with Viacom's HA! cable network to form Comedy Central. In 2003, Viacom bought HBO's half of the channel and merged it to its MTV Networks unit. In 2005, HBO and New Line Cinema launched Picturehouse, a independent film distributor.

Captain Midnight Attacks

Controversy erupted in the cable programming world in the mid-1980s as cable operators began scrambling their programming and charging fees to home satellite dish owners who accessed the same satellite signals cable operators received. Many satellite dish owners were forced to purchase descrambling equipment at a cost of hundreds of dollars in addition to paying monthly or annual subscription fees to cable programming providers. Programming costs for home dish owners were often higher than fees paid by cable subscribers, despite dishowners being responsible for owning and servicing their own equipment.

When HBO scrambled its signal, it offered subscriptions to home dish owners for $12.95 per month, which was either equal to or slightly higher than what cable subscribers paid. Dish owners felt they were being asked to pay a price that was designed to be anti-competitive, and it triggered a national movement among dish owners to more strongly regulate the cable industry and force them to stop anti-competitive pricing.

While some dish owners called their elected officials, others took a more direct approach to send a message to the industry.

On the evening of April 27, 1986 at 12:32am John R. MacDougall, a satellite TV dealer in Ocala, Florida was working at Central Florida Teleport, a company that uplinks services to satellites. He was overseeing the uplink of the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure. At the end of his shift he swung the dish back in to its storage position pointing directly upward which happened to be the location of Galaxy 1, the satellite that carries HBO. As a protest against the introduction of high fees and scrambling equipment he transmitted a signal onto the satellite which overrode HBO's airing of The Falcon and the Snowman. The text message which appeared on the sets of HBO subscribers across the Eastern time zone:


MacDougall chose the name "Captain Midnight" from a movie he had recently seen, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight. After media pressure forced the Federal Communications Commission to act, MacDougall was charged and plea bargained a $5,000 fine and was placed on one year's probation.


  • 1972: "Different and First"
  • 1978: "Don't Miss HBO"
  • 1982: "Start with Us on HBO"
  • 1983: "There's No Place Like HBO"
  • 1986: "Let's All Get Together"
  • 1989: "Watch Us Here on HBO"
  • 1990: "We're HBO"
  • 1993: "We're Out of Town Today"
  • 1997-present: "It's Not TV, It's HBO"
    • "Sunday is HBO"

HBO original programming

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Poster for the original HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
File:Tv poster sex and the city.jpg
Poster for HBO's original series Sex and the City.
Poster for HBO's original series Six Feet Under.

These are shows that are either currently on HBO or have been on it in the past.


HBO currently has exclusive deals with sister company Warner Bros., Dreamworks and Twentieth Century Fox. In addition, it holds partial pay-cable rights to movies produced by Sony Pictures (excluding those in partnership with Revolution Studios), and Universal Studios (along with affiliate companies Rogue Pictures and Focus Features). Despite also being a sister company to HBO, some New Line Cinema films do not appear on HBO due to a prior output deal with competitor Starz.

As a result of these limited deals, HBO often fills its late-night schedule with recent B-movies (some of which were never released theatrically) produced by lesser-known independent companies. On the other hand, HBO often shows sub-runs (that is, runs of films that have already received broadcast network/syndicated television releases) of theatrical films from Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Lions Gate Films.

In 2003, HBO acquired the exclusive pay-cable rights to Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones from Fox and Lucasfilm, Ltd., and during its 18-month term of license aired the movie without it first seeing any pay-per-view cable release. HBO currently has first choice on the pay-cable rights to its sequel, Revenge Of The Sith, which are expected to be settled at any time.

HBO also has exclusive pay-cable rights to its own in-house theatrical films made under HBO Films.

External link

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