Dolan presented his "Green Channel" idea to Time Life management, and though satellite distribution was only a distant possibility at the time, he persuaded Time Life to back him, and soon "The Green Channel" became Home Box Office on November 8, 1972. HBO began using a network of microwave relay towers to feed its programming. The first program and film to be seen on HBO was Sometimes a Great Notion, starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda to a CATV system in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (a plaque commemorating this event is found in Wilkes-Barre's downtown Public Square).
Sterling Manhattan Cable was rapidly losing money because the company had a small subscriber base of 20,000 customers in Manhattan. Dolan's media partner, Time Life, Inc., gained 80 percent control of Sterling and decided to pull the plug on the Sterling Manhattan operation. Time Life dropped the Sterling name to become Manhattan Cable Television and gained control of HBO in March of 1973. Gerald Levin replaced Dolan as HBO's President and Chief Executive Officer. In September of 1973 Time Life, Inc. completed its acquisition of the pay service. HBO was soon the fastest growing show in America, but the churn rate was exceptionally high. Subscribers would sample the service for a few weeks, get weary of seeing the same films, and then cancel. HBO was struggling and something had to be done. When HBO first came to Lawrence, Massachusetts, the idea was to allow subscribers to preview the service for free on channel 3. After a month, the service moved to channel 6 and was scrambled. The preview proved popular, obtaining many subscriptions and the concept was used elsewhere.
On September 30, 1975, HBO became the first TV network to continuously deliver signals via satellite when it showed the "Thrilla in Manila" boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. On December 28, 1981, HBO expanded its programming schedule to 24 hours a day, seven days per week. (Cinemax was 24/7 from the day it signed on, and Showtime and The Movie Channel went 24 hours earlier.) In January 1986, HBO also became the first satellite network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by way of the Videocipher II System and in 1993 became the world's first digitally transmitted television service. In 1999 HBO became the first national cable TV network to broadcast a high-definition version of its channel.
In 1983 The Terry Fox Story premiered; it was HBO's first original movie and the first made-for-pay-TV movie. That year was also the premiere of the first kids' show to be broadcast on the channel—Fraggle Rock.
In the late 1980s, HBO launched a short-lived channel, Festival. It featured classic movies and current hit movies as well as HBO's specials and documentaries. The difference with Festival was that it was programmed to be family-friendly. R rated movies were edited for showing and no low quality themed programs/movies were shown. Also, the subscription for the channel was priced lower than HBO & Cinemax. Unfortunately, only a few cable systems carried Festival and the channel went dark after a year or so.
HBO was involved in several legal suits during the 1980s involving cable systems and legal statutes imposed by state and city laws that would have censored HBO and other pay-TV networks for programming that was considered "indecent".
In April 1986, HBO became a victim of broadcast signal intrusion when a man calling himself "Captain Midnight" intercepted the network's signal during a movie presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The man was later caught and prosecuted.
In 1988 HBO's userbase expanded greatly on account of the writer's guild going on strike; HBO had new programming while standard TV was only able to show reruns.
In 1991, HBO and Cinemax became the first premium services to offer multiplexing to cable customers. Providing multiple options of HBO and Cinemax instead of just single channel services, these include (HBO2, renamed HBO Plus from 1998 to 2002) and Cinemax (Cinemax 2, now MoreMax) to three cable systems in Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas. The move proved successful resulting in HBO and Cinemax launching additional multiplex channels of its service, HBO 3 (launched in 1995, renamed HBO Signature in 1998), HBO Family (launched in 1996), HBO Comedy & HBO Zone (launched in 1999) and HBO Latino, a Latin-themed channel of HBO (launched in 2000. Cinemax also launched the multiplex services Cinemax 3 (launched in 1996, ActionMax in 1998), ThrillerMax (launched in 1998) and WMax, @Max, OuterMax and 5StarMax (all launched in 2001). The HBO channels became collectively known as "HBO The Works" in 1998, and the Cinemax channels became known as "MultiMax". The two packages then merged into "HBO/MAX Pak", but are no longer packaged under one name.
Originally, HBO was part of Time Inc. When Time merged with Warner Communications in 1989, it became part of Time Warner, who serves as its parent company today. Warner actually created rival The Movie Channel in the late-1970s before selling it to Viacom a few years later.
HBO has also developed a reputation for offering very high quality original programming. HBO is a subscription-only service and does not carry normal commercials; both of these factors relieve HBO from pressures to tone down controversial aspects in their programs, thus allowing for explicit themes, such as graphic violence, sex and profanity.
The network is currently received in roughly one-third of households in the United States. It can be quite expensive to acquire HBO because subscribers are generally required to pay for an extra "tier" of service even before paying for the channel itself (though all of the HBO channels are often priced together in a single package). Someone upgrading from a standard cable package might see their bill increase more than 40%. However, federal law requires that a cable system allow a person to get just basic cable (local broadcast channels and public, educational, and governmental (PEG) channels) and HBO, without subscribing to expanded service. Cable systems can require the use of a converter box (usually digital) to receive HBO.
Even in the days of the V-chip, the primary HBO channel still does not run unedited R rated films or TV-MA rated programming during the daytime, continuing a long-held policy. HBO's multiplex channels will do so (excluding HBO Family, which doesn't run R rated films at all and will generally run PG-13 rated films only between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.).
Several HBO programs have been re-aired on other networks and local syndication (usually after some editing), and a number of them are also available on DVD. Since HBO's more successful series, most notably Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under, are broadcast on non-cable networks in other countries, such as in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and much of Europe, HBO programming has the potential to be seen by a higher percentage of the population of those countries as compared to the U.S. Because of the high cost of HBO, many Americans only view HBO programs on DVDs or in basic cable or broadcast syndication, months or even years after the network has first broadcast the programs, and with editing for advertising time and content, although several series have filmed alternate 'clean' scenes meant for syndication runs.
HBO has international operations in Latin America, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania (and Moldova), Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Asia/South Asia (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan). It also had an early investment in New Zealand's SKY Network Television through the channel HBO (now Sky Movies). HBO plans to launch international operations in "key markets" of Europe (France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Turkey) and Japan.
HBO has already begun to deliver content to cable customers via its subscription video on demand service, HBO On Demand, in the UK (BT Vision and Virgin Media) and Israel (Jasmine TV). Additionally, it has launched its HBO Mobile service in Western Europe, South Africa and Korea.
HBO.com launched in 1995. It is well-known for its online web shows.
In 1990, HBO launched HBO Independent Productions, a production company that produced mainly sitcoms for broadcast and basic cable television, including Martin and Everybody Loves Raymond. HBO Downtown Productions was launched a year later producing comedy specials for the network as well as content for Comedy Central (which HBO formerly co-owned).
HBO also operates HBO Films, created in 1999, as a reconfiguration and consolidation of its former movie divisions, HBO NYC Productions and HBO Pictures. HBO also operated another film division called HBO Showcase, which ceased in 1996 to form HBO NYC Productions.
HBO also has a number of joint ventures:
All seven HBO channels are simulcast in high definition.
HBO also packages the Eastern and Pacific feeds of the main channel together, allowing viewers a second chance to watch the same movie/program three hours later/earlier depending on their geographic location.
Since 1977, HBO has produced original programming in addition to its slate of theatrical films. Most of these shows are rated TV-MA, and often feature suggestive themes and high amounts of profanity, something that would be much more difficult to get on other network channels.
Some of HBO's best-known series include:
As a result of these limited deals, HBO often fills its late-night schedule with recent B-movies (some of which were never released theatrically) produced by lesser-known, independent companies. On the other hand, HBO also shows sub-runs (runs of films that have already received broadcast network/syndicated television releases) of theatrical films from Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Lions Gate Films.
In 2003, HBO acquired the exclusive pay-cable rights to Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones from Fox and Lucasfilm, Ltd., and during its initial 18-month term of license, aired the movie without first giving it a pay-per-view cable release. HBO also has pay-cable rights to its sequel, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. During negotiations for the pay-cable rights to Clones, a deal to air the entire saga, including the revised DVD version of the original trilogy [IV, V, and VI], was made, and as a result sister network Cinemax became the first U.S. network to air all six films (in turn, HBO had limited pay-cable access to all these movies until the first quarter of 2008).
HBO also has exclusive pay-cable rights to its own in-house theatrical films made under HBO Films.
Usually films which HBO has pay-cable rights will also run on Cinemax during its time of license.
HBO and NFL Films have also jointly produced Hard Knocks, which follows a team in training camp and their preparations for the upcoming NFL season. The series, which first premiered in 2001, returns in 2008 where it will document the Dallas Cowboys.
In 1973, HBO aired a World Wide Wrestling Federation event from Madison Square Garden, headlined by George Steele facing Pedro Morales. The event recently showed up as part of the WWE 24/7 on-demand service.
In 2001, HBO hired Bob Costas to host a 12 episode sports show called On the Record with Bob Costas. A revamped version of On the Record began in 2005 called Costas Now hosted by Bob Costas. Both shows are very similar to another HBO sports show called Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
In 2004, guided by human rights activist Ansar Burney, an HBO team for Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel used a hidden camera to document slavery and torture in secret desert camps where boys under the age of five were trained to race camels, a national sport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This half-hour investigative report exposed a carefully hidden child slavery ring that bought or kidnapped hundreds of young boys in Pakistan and Bangladesh. These boys were then forced to become camel jockeys in the UAE. The report also questioned the sincerity of U.S. diplomacy in pressuring an ally, the UAE, to comply with its own stated policy of banning the use of children under 15 from camel racing.
The documentary won a Sports Emmy Award in 2004 for "Outstanding Sports Journalism" and the 2006 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for outstanding broadcast journalism. It also brought world attention to the plight of child camel jockeys in the Middle East and helped Ansar Burney Trust to convince the governments of Qatar and the UAE to end the use of children in this sport.
HBO is also noted for its "Sports of the 20th century" documentary brand. One of its most recent documentaries was "Dare to Dream" about the U.S. Women's Soccer Team and their effort to make a difference. This documentary featured Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, and Julie Foudy.
The fanfare to the HBO in Space movie open, originally composed by Ferdinand J. Smith for Score Productions, has become a sort of musical logo for the network with numerous reorchestrations of this fanfare being used, varying from the traditional horns to piano.
Unless otherwise noted, HBO is one of the few pay-TV networks remaining that does not currently brand programming with semi-transparent logos of the main network and each respective theme channel.
In 2005, a version of the DVD interactive game Scene It was released tailored to the HBO network itself. It features trivia on various HBO series.
Prior to 2008, HBO was not available in Canada, although some HBO programming was aired on Canadian cable channels. On September 22, 2008, the Canadian pay TV operators The Movie Network and Movie Central announced they would jointly begin offering a dedicated HBO channel in both SD and HD, called HBO Canada, on October 30. The channel's programming will include several HBO series, specials and sporting events not previously available in Canada. A selection of Canadian films and series will also air to satisfy Canadian content requirements.