Skip to main content

HBO’s blockbuster show Game of Thrones is one of the titles Bell gains exclusive Canadian distribution rights to as part of its new deal.LUCAS JACKSON/Reuters

How did HBO get so big?

In a word, content. Around the turn of this century, HBO built its brand on stand-out shows such as The Sopranos, Sex and the City and, later, The Wire.

There's a lot of talk about the current "golden age of television," and HBO helped usher that in.

Right now, its big hits include Game of Thrones, True Detective, Veep, Silicon Valley, Girls and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is also known for movies – such as Citizenfour, which won the Academy Award this year for documentary feature, and Going Clear, a documentary about Scientology – and comedy specials.

All of this draws in paying viewers. Last year saw its biggest subscriber growth in more than 30 years.

What makes it different from other TV channels?

It is pay TV. That's a separate broadcast licence from "specialty" (cable) channels, or pay-per-view.

HBO Canada has been part of standalone suites of stations that include movie channels, usually offered for a separate fee on top of a cable package, as opposed to in a bundle.

I've heard of HBO Go. Can I get it as a digital subscription if I don't want cable TV?

No. HBO GO is an app that lets you stream programming on digital devices, but you have to subscribe to the TV channel to get it. HBO Now, a standalone streaming offering, launched in April, but in the United States only. Since Bell has invested heavily in this deal, securing HBO streaming rights in Canada, it has effectively ensured its lucrative TV offering won't be undercut by HBO Now coming to Canada.

The options for how and where to watch HBO may change, though, since Bell has landed more comprehensive rights to air shows on TV and online, including on its own streaming service, Crave-TV.

I already subscribe to HBO. What happens now?

If you live in Eastern Canada, nothing changes. You already get HBO Canada and The Movie Network (TMN), which Bell owns. In the western provinces, until now you subscribed to HBO Canada through Movie Central and Encore Avenue, owned by Corus Entertainment Inc. Those channels will be shut down once Bell launches TMN and HBO Canada nationally, likely in early 2016.

Bell has said subscribers – who will have 45 days notice of the changeover – should switch over automatically when that happens. The programming will be almost identical. As for cost, Bell says it sees "no reason why retail prices would change at this time."

I get my TV from a provider other than Bell. Can I still get HBO Canada?

Yes. Bell needs to negotiate agreements with distributors such as Shaw and Telus, to make the channels available. It already has arrangements with providers such as Rogers and Cogeco.

By the numbers

  • 60-plus: Countries where a channel called HBO is offered
  • 150-plus: Countries where HBO programming is licensed to air on other channels
  • 122 million: Rough number of worldwide subscribers, according to HBO
  • 13 million: Registered users of HBO Now, the new standalong digital streaming service that launched in the U.S. this year