...so I've chatted with Bernadette Aulestia. At length. She's not stupid. She's also not telling the whole truth.
Right now, HBO makes most of its money from cable companies. The true cost-to-carry for an HBO subscription is about the same as a Netflix subscription - the other $13 a month is what Time Warner makes selling you HBO. So on a per-user basis, HBO could come to you for about what Netflix does.
And you'd buy it. You know you would.
But for now, HBO has a powerful disincentive to sell it to you - they're fully funded and have big larders of cash purely from those big dinosaurs on their way out, the cable companies. Who are not about to give Netflix money to have Netflix programming on their copper.
So while Netflix goes out and pioneers exactly how you set up a studio that makes content that sells without ever going through a channel, beating their heads against Hulu, against Youtube, against Chiller, against Amazon, against everybody else, establishing a distribution channel, finding customers, reinventing metrics, and all the other things necessary when one is reinventing distribution, HBO gets to sit back and say
"step off, bitch, we're HBO."
This is one of the reasons Bernadette has said a few times that Game of Thrones being the most torrented show on television doesn't hurt them a whit - they're making all their money from cable companies who don't care what shows you watch, they're billing you monthly. Every viewing of GoT isn't a lost sale for them, it's a freebie giveaway that renews and re-establishes HBO's brand.
What all these articles miss is that as soon as the cable companies are dead, as soon as nobody is watching non-timeshifted media, as soon as it's a battle-scarred wasteland where Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu and Youtube have been whittled down to Googlezon and Hulutunes, they can pop their heads up and say
"Did I mention we're HBO? Who wants to carry us?"
And they will come out the other side of the bloodbath without a fucking drop on them.
Lather, rinse, repeat for every other channel that produces content... except since they don't have HBO's premium price, they can't have HBO's premium coyness, so they're whoring themselves to whoever they can.
Young americans will pay for TV. They just won't pay cable companies. Everybody knows this but the cable companies, and everyone will be fine except the cable companies.