HBO Comes to Sky — But at a Price
There’s nothing so-so about the HBO-style channel dedicated to premium drama that Sky’s confirmed will launch in HD on Halloween.
It’s a fantastic initiative that’s marred only by Sky using it to extract even more lucre from Platinum subscribers.
Sky announced its plans for SoHo today, along with an exclusive HBO deal that will see much of the cable TV giant’s product screen across Sky’s channels and platforms.
SoHo does seem to be the drama nirvana that viewers frustrated with free-to-air TV’s scheduling of the genre would welcome.
The line-up extends from HBO premieres, like Game of Thrones, Treme and the upcoming horse-racing drama Luck, to BBC newcomers like The Hour and The Shadow Line and such library classics as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and The Wire.
There also will be product from US cable channels like AMC, the home of Mad Men and The Walking Dead, including The Killng and Hell on Wheels, a period drama about the building of the transcontinental railroad, Showtime’s Weeds and from Starz, which screens Spartacus, the new period fantasy, Camelot.
Add to these highlights new seasons of Dexter, True Blood, Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, as well as movies and miniseries (Pillars of the Earth, which is due this month on DVD but not Blu-ray), documentaries, comedies (Bored to Death, How to Make it In America, Eastbound and Down) and comedy specials.
Programming will be built around a six-and-a-half-hour block of content that plays four times in each 24-hour period. Key series will screen twice-weekly in primetime and SoHo will feature a “Box Set Weekend” every week, where back-to-back episodes of full seasons of iconic series will air.
Box Set Weekends scheduled at launch include the latest season of True Blood, 2010’s award-winning first season of Boardwalk Empire, season five of Dexter and the original season of HBO’s The Wire.
It’s not clear if future seasons of shows like True Blood will premiere first on Sky’s free-to-air channel, Prime, or on SoHo but much of the HBO content will wind up on Prime if deemed populist enough.
SoHo will try to play all new content as close to the international premiere dates as practicable.
But it will take the channel a couple of months to get in sync with these, so don’t expect the practice to kick in until early next year; in the meantime, SoHo will screen all the content we have missed out on recently to catch us up with international audiences.
As Sky chief executive John Fellet rightly observes in the press release trumpeting SoHo’s launch: “We agree with some media commentators who state New Zealanders are missing out on quality television and we’re proud to be doing something about this.
“The launch of SoHo, a dedicated channel for the discerning television fan, enables us to offer a compelling selection of content for the engaged viewer who wants more intelligent, dramatic, provocative and distinctive programming choices.
“For many New Zealanders, this will become their favourite channel.”
Of that there’s no doubt, and Sky is to be applauded for programming such a mesmerising mix that, as its director of entertainment content, Travis Dunbar, says, will screen in “easily acccessible” primetime slots.
“Viewers can rest assured that as well as bringing them the best television on the planet as soon as it is available to us, we will remain committed to these programmes throughout their run, so they’ve no need to worry about their favourite being dropped mid-season or moved to an inaccessible timeslot.”
But what will bother subscribers who already have Platinum packages like Sports or Movies is they will have to fork out $10 a month extra for SoHo, which seems excessive if you’re also an HD ticket subscriber.
However, SoHo’s first month — November — will be free to all subscribers and the good news for HD viewers is most of the schedule will be in HD, with the exception of some library content.