HBO and “Cutting the Cord”

FTP_cable3Jennifer Holt’s Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996 plants a foundation for understanding the relations and evolutions of cable companies as well as networks. In Chapter 1, titled 1980-1983: Film Versus Cable, Holt explains the HBO investigation by the Department of Justice to evaluate the monopolizing actions that HBO were claimed to be making. Holt writes, “The film companies claimed that HBO was behaving monopolistically, and they sought to have federal regulators scrutinize the channel for antitrust violations” (25). HBO went unchallenged and even strategically prevented the cable company, Premiere from further developing.

The major conflicts between companies and the evolving monopolies forming during the 1980’s is a reminder of what is happening with the digital age, cable television, online and streaming currently. The challenges in 1980 to HBO were Showtime and The Movie Channel, and now HBO has competitors in every direction. Between Netflix, Apple TV, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Hulu, the availability of shows and movies are flexible and viewers now have more freedom. This idea of immediacy and freedom and has been ingrained in our society when it comes to accessing media.

The article, “The Cable’s Walls Are Coming Down” from by Mat Honan discusses the challenges that cable television is facing. He writes, “Despite its current financial health, subscription TV knows chord-cutting is inevitable, and the industry is trying desperately to protect its assets. The cable and satellite services have three final strongholds that are keeping most people tethered: live sports, live news and first-run premium content”. HBO has been a leading in trying to keep their subscribers as well has gain new ones. They have come up with ways to internationally give streaming to people without subscriptions. HBO has been a leader in both cable and advancing with the new technology to maintain their space at the top.

Honan writes, “Cutting the cord is still an outlier activity”. Not to mention that it is difficult for companies to maintain their wealth when switching to different platforms. He talks about how it is not necessarily economically feasible or logical for large networks to “air original programming”. HBO has always benefitted from their relationships with studios as well as the Department of Justice. HBO has continued to maintain good relationships with other companies and that has helped them to expand and adhere to a larger audience.

Reading about HBO and the evolution during the 1980’s speaks to HBO’s success now. Holt wrote, “HBO was the television industry’s first client for SATCOM I and this new method of distribution put HBO on the map as the dominant force in pay-cable service; within two years the channel was available on 262 cable systems across the country” (26). HBO is seemingly still a dominant force despite the competitors. However, the article addresses the “walls crumbling”. The cable companies’ walls are caving in and “great change often begins very slowly, and then floodgates open all at once” (par 11 Honan). Although these are two different time periods, it is interesting to look at the different shifts taking place over time in the same industry as well as new industries that people could have never imagined during the 1980’s.

In “The Rise of HBO” section of Chapter 1 of Holt’s book, Holt explains and elaborates more on the ways in which HBO created a monopoly and ho HBO was able to be a leader in the field. Companies became dependent on HBO. HBO was taking over the industry not only within television but also for motion pictures. “Because of the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (fin-sin) and cross-ownership regulations dating back to 1970, broadcast networks and film studios were not allowed to own one another, and broadcast networks were also prohibited from owning cable systems” (Holt 22). It is interesting to see how HBO was leading during the rise of cable conglomeration and now HBO competing in the top to be at the top of the new services. During the early 1980’s HBO was spending an exorbitant amount of money to fund Hollywood films and expanding their dominance in the field of film and television.

Holt, Jennifer (Author). Empires of Entertainment : Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996.
Piscataway, NJ, USA: Rutgers University Press, 2011. p 166.

Honan, Mat. “Cable’s Walls Are Coming Down.” Conde Nast Digital, 02 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. <;.

Image from Creative Commons.



  1. This is a really great point, Sam:

    The major conflicts between companies and the evolving monopolies forming during the 1980’s is a reminder of what is happening with the digital age, cable television, online and streaming [content] currently.

    I like that you’re seeing connections between structural convergences taking place today and the transformations Holt describes taking place in the various media industries during the 1980s and 1990s. And Honan’s piece in Wired was a nice find, too.


  1. […] I am less concerned about this cutting the cord movement (you can read what Sam has to say about it here) and more concerned with the company’s intentional ignoring of user password […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: