U.S. Cable Network

Home Box Office (HBO), a division of Time Warner Entertainment Company, produces, markets, and distributes media products for both film and television. It operates a 24-hour premium cable channel with transmission across the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The mainstay of its programming is non-X-rated motion pictures, with originally produced documentaries, movies, series, comedy, music, movies, and sports specials. In addition to the self-named premium channel HBO, the corporation operates Cinemax, another premium channel, and owns 50% of Comedy Central. It also maintains equity interests in E! Entertainment. Internationally, its services include HBO Asia, HBO Brazil, HBO Czech, HBO Hungary, HBO Spektrum, a Hungarian language documentary channel, and throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America and the Caribbean Basin as HBO Ole.

Founded in 1972, HBO was developed as a pay-movie/ special service cable operation in New York. In November of the same year, service was expanded when a National Hockey League game from Madison Square garden was transmitted to 365 Service Electric Cable TV subscribers in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. After three years of expansion using microwave technology, HBO presented the heavyweight boxing championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila via satellite. Its success lead to HBO becoming the first in the television industry to use satellites for regular transmission of programming.

With the national growth of cable television, came competition from other companies offering premium channel service. In an effort to ensure product, Showtime, The Movie Channel negotiated a deal with Paramount Pictures, giving them exclusive rights to all motion pictures distributed. HBO countered the move by forming a new motion picture company with Columbia Pictures and CBS in 1983--Tri-Star. Later, the company obtained exclusive rights to films from Silver Screen Partners, Columbia Pictures, Savoy Pictures, and 20th Century Fox.

The company expanded its reach into broadcast television in 1990 with the formation of HBO Independent Productions, developed to produce series television. Its first show was Roc, which aired on the FOX network. Acquisition of Citadel Entertainment in 1991 furthered HBO's reach, developing programming for CBS and ABC, as well as for cable channels TNT, USA Lifetime, and HBO.

The cable and broadcast television industry were severely affected by increasing use of videocassettes by the public. In the 1980s, sales and rentals of pre-recorded video tapes detrimentally affected viewership. HBO further diversified, entering into this area as well. In 1984, with Thorn EMI Entertainment, the company formed EMI/HBO Home Video (now known as HBO Home Video). This division of HBO both acquires and distributes home video programs in the United States and Canada.

Courtesy of HBO

A cable industry giant, the Home Box Office corporation initiated several new technologies, marketing strategies, and programming ideas to television, resulting in its receipt of the Golden Ace, the cable industry's highest overall honor. Some of its innovations include: in 1980, pay -tv's first comprehensive national advertising campaign; in 1981 the first made-for-pay-tv movie, The Terry Fox Story; in 1986, full-time time scrambling in an effort to fight piracy; and in 1991 multi-plexing of HBO and Cinemax.

-Frances Gateward


Mair, George. Inside HBO: The Billion Dollar War Between HBO, Hollywood, And The Home Video Revolution. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1988.


See also Cable Networks; Hollywood and Television; Levin, Gerald; Movies on Television; Pay Cable; Satellite; Sports and Television