who-owns-hbo

Who Owns HBO?

HBO is part of Warner Bros. Discovery, a massive group comprising brands such as Discovery, Warner Bros, HBO, HGTV, Food Network, and many others. The Warner Bros. Discovery group generated over $33 billion in revenue in 2022, primarily owned by institutional investors.

Origin Story

HBO (Home Box Office) is an American premium cable and streaming television network that has been a leading force in the entertainment industry since its founding in 1972. The earliest iteration of the company was founded by cable television executive Charles Dolan.

Here is a brief look at HBO’s history including its critical early years and national expansion.

Sterling Information Services

Before HBO, Dolan was a marketer and distributor of content for television syndication and pioneered the commercial use of cables. In 1965, he was issued a franchise permit by the New York City Council to service Lower Manhattan with cable television.

Dolan’s service was launched in September 1966 and was initially offered via his company Sterling Information Services. For the first few years, he lost money on the venture because of a lack of subscribers and the costs associated with laying underground infrastructure.

Desperate to keep the company afloat, Dolan had the idea in 1971 to offer a dedicated cable TV channel on a subscription basis. Codenamed “The Green Channel”, it would offer Hollywood films and live sports without interruption from advertising.

Dolan also sold a 20% stake to Time-Life Company which later sent out a direct mail research brochure to gauge consumer interest in the idea. Despite just 1.2% of participants showing interest in paying for television, the partners decided to move forward with the venture anyway.

HBO is launched

HBO was launched on November 8, 1972, with the first program a National Hockey League (NHL) match between the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers. There were just 365 subscribers at this time, and all of them were in Pennsylvania.

Sterling Communications and Time-Life initially wanted to call the service “Sterling Cable Network”, but after further discussion, “Home Box Office” (HBO) was deemed more suitable. The name was intended to convey to customers that HBO would be their “ticket” to events and movies they could view from the comfort of their own homes.

By January 1974, HBO’s programming increased to around eight hours per day during the week and twelve hours per day on the weekend. In addition to movies and sports, the channel also featured concerts, children’s content, and various instructional series.

National expansion

HBO had plans to expand across the United States in the 1970s but realized that it would be too expensive to install microwave and telephone relay towers in all 50 states. 

The company later settled on satellite technology as the only cost-effective solution, and on September 30, 1975, HBO became the first TV network to deliver a continuous signal via satellite when it broadcast a heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

By the end of 1975, HBO had 300,000 subscribers and, just five years later, had 2 million subscribers in all 50 U.S. states. The company’s growth would also encourage the development of the pay television industry as a whole, with HBO part-owner Warner Communications the first to offer a competitor service.

Additional channels

HBO introduced a second channel called Cinemax in 1980 after increased pressure from rival Showtime. Soon after, HBO had the financial clout to pay movie producers to feature film broadcasts and also started the movie studio Tri-Star Pictures.

The Comedy Channel was released in 1989, with HBO 2 and Cinemax 2 launched in 1991. Alternative media for different viewer groups was later developed with the dedicated channels HBO Family and HBO Latino.

Today, HBO has around 96 million subscribers in the United States across its various channels.

Key takeaways

  • HBO (Home Box Office) is a premium cable and streaming television network that was founded in 1972. The earliest iteration of the company was founded by cable television executive Charles Dolan.
  • HBO was launched on November 8, 1972, with the first program a National Hockey League (NHL) match between the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers. There were just 365 subscribers at this time, and all of them were in Pennsylvania.
  • HBO had plans to expand across the United States in the 1970s but realized that it would be too expensive to install microwave and telephone relay towers in all 50 states. The company later decided to use satellite technology, which fuelled its growth and increased the popularity of cable TV more broadly.

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