Amazon Prime To Stream HBO Shows

HBO Go To Launch On Amazon’s Fire TV

In a major licensing deal, HBO will offer its biggest original series including The Sopranos and Big Love to Amazon Prime customers as part of an exclusive agreement reached between the two parties Wednesday.

The deal marks the first time HBO has exhibited its original series outside of its linear premium channels, it’s on demand services or its HBO GO digital service. Starting May 21 premium Amazon Prime customers will have access to such shows as Six Feet Under, The Wire, Big Love, Deadwood, Eastbound and Down, Family Tree, Enlightened, Treme, and early seasons of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, said network officials. Under the deal, previous seasons of HBO shows, such as Girls, The Newsroom and Veep will become available over the course of the multi-year agreement, approximately three years after airing on HBO, the programmer said.

In addition, miniseries such as Band Of Brothers and John Adams will be made available to Amazon Prime. All content available on Amazon Prime will remain on HBO GO, according to the network.

Moreover, HBO Go will become available on Amazon’s Fire TV, the $99 digital streaming and gaming device that launched earlier this month.

HBO executive vice president of business and legal affairs Glenn Whitehead said in a statement regarding the deal that “as owners of our original programming, we have always sought to capitalize on that investment. Given our longstanding relationship with Amazon, we couldn’t think of a better partner to entrust with this valuable collection. We’re also excited to bring HBO GO to Amazon’s Fire TV. The features like unified voice search will provide a compelling experience for HBO customers.”

Brad Beale, director of content acquisition for Amazon, said “HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking, beloved and award-winning shows in television history, with more than 115 Emmys amongst the assortment of shows coming to Prime members next month,” said. “HBO original content is some of the most-popular across Amazon Instant Video—our customers love watching these shows. Now Prime members can enjoy a collection of great HBO shows on an unlimited basis, at no additional cost to their Prime membership.”

OTT Competition Heats Up

The deal enters play as competition between Amazon Prime and Netflix, which doesn’t have access to the coveted HBO library, continues to heat up.  

And getting an exclusive with HBO should help Amazon justify its recent decision to raise the price of Amazon Prime for U.S. subscribers by $20 – from $79 to $99 per year. In addition to access to a large streaming library, Amazon Prime also features free two-day shipping.

In January, Amazon CFO Tom Szkutak denied that that rising video licensing costs were among the drivers for the price hikes that Amazon was contemplating for Prime. However, the decision to raise the price did come as Amazon expands its video library via new licensing deals (of recent note, Amazon has inked content exclusives for Prime customers with Twenteith Century Fox, Tribeca Film, BBC America, MTV and FX, an Amazon official pointed out), as well as a growing selection of original fare.

Additionally, the Amazon Studios unit, plans to shoot all “full” original series being teed up this year in the 4K format. Amazon is also among the content providers that will deliver a package of 4K content to Samsung’s new line of Ultra HD TVs

Amazon has not revealed an exact subscriber figure for Prime, only going as far as saying that it has signed up “tens of millions” of them. However, Bernstein Research analyst Carlos Kirjner estimated recently that there are 20 million to 25 million U.S. homes with at least one Amazon Prime account, and 70 million U.S. homes with an active account.

Netflix, which intends to raise monthly subscription fees for new customers by $1 or $2 per month later this year, ended the first quarter with 48.35 million total streaming subs -- 35.67 million in the U.S., and 13.62 million in its international markets.

-- Multichannel News technology editor Jeff Baumgartner contributed to this report.