HBO in the UK: Why So Complicated?

HBO is one of America’s biggest and most popular television networks, hosting some of the most popular television series in the world and has given us some iconic moments in television history. Who will forget such moments as Larry David arguing with a man in wheelchair over the handicapped stall or when Carrie and Mr Big finally declared their love to each other? In the 43 years since its creation it has developed eight other channels, three on demand services (HBO Now, HBO Go and HBO On Demand) and a sister company, Cinemax, which has seven channels of its own devoted to showing a variety of films including softcore erotica. For a network so massive, I have only one question. Why is it so difficult to watch HBO shows in the UK?


HBO doesn’t exist on its own in the UK and you can’t subscribe to any of the on demand services without being a subscriber of HBO which you can’t do overseas. There have been countless times when there has been an HBO special such as Tig Notaro’s Boyish Girl Interrupted, that is completely impossible to get hold of without parting with a lot of cash or using illegal methods. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially as the HBO UK website basically just shows you all the fun things you could be watching if you lived in America. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for us Brits and our saviour is Sky, but it comes at a cost and with a catch. Sky TV is a massive corporation supplying satellite TV, internet and phone lines to a huge proportion of British people. Subscribing to Sky TV gives you thousands of channels for a hefty cost but amongst those channels is Sky Atlantic, the home to HBO shows broadcast in the UK. You can only get Sky Atlantic if you have the entire Sky TV package, which is not ideal and a very expensive way of watching TV that you love. As the name suggests, Sky Atlantic gives us a plethora of US shows from HBO, ABC and Showtime but not always at the same time as they air in the US. Game of Thrones has been the only exception which is aired on Sky Atlantic in the dark of the night at the same time as it is aired in the US. For most other popular new shows, it is usually shown on Sky Atlantic the day after it premieres in the US which basically means avoiding social media and any American friends for about 24 hours in order to save yourself from finding out spoilers.


If you are not a subscriber to Sky TV, which I am not, there is another way to watch HBO shows which is through Now TV, an on demand service available through an application on your Smart TV, games console or mobile phone. So lets take an episode of Game of Thrones as an example, which will be shown live on Sky Atlantic at 2am on Monday mornings. As soon as the episode is over it is available to watch on demand on Now TV for approximately 28 days. As Sky TV and Now TV are related services, it is possible to get the same HBO shows shown on Sky Atlantic, on Now TV and in addition, you can get the boxset on demand as well. Box sets for TV shows that are currently airing a new season are avaiable in the run up to the new season release and will often disappear when the new season is over. For TV shows which have finished running, the entire box set is available forever and for extremely popular long running shows like Modern Family the box set is always available but the latest season won’t be. It can be quite complicated and incredibly frustrating if you are half way through a box set and it suddenly disappears.


The HBO shows that are shown over here are very limited and we only really get the most popular series, we don’t get the documentary specials or any of the stand up shows so there is a huge amount of content that we never get to see. So next time you are sat on the sofa flicking through the channels and landing on HBO, just think of us poor sods across the pond who are wrestling with broadband speeds and on demand services just to watch the latest episode of our favourite TV show. Maybe one day we will get a HBO UK channel that we can subscribe to, its not the dark ages anymore and it would be nice if HBO followed in Comedy Central’s footsteps and allowed us in to their magical TV world so we can level up our couch potato status. As a writer for an HBO website I have to hide from my fellow writers until I can watch new episodes and am always late to the party.

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