HBO discussed buying Netflix in 2006

“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can be us.”

that’s it Netflix executive Ted Sarandos in 2013, before his company made his leap to original content with House of Cards. And not just original interior – shiny big budget interior made by a famous director, with (at the time) a famous actor. HBO-style content.

Even if you don’t follow the media business very closely, you probably know what happens next: In House of Cards, Netflix has proven, quickly, that it can make movies as good as the things done on the fabled pay TV network. And then Netflix started doing a lot of things, and consumers loved that too. And now Netflix is ​​everyone’s company The media company wants to follow – and this is the main reason for every major media company trying to decide should it be bought or sold by every other major media company.

But it doesn’t have to go that way. In 2005, two years before Netflix entered the streaming business, some HBO executives pushed the company to do the same thing. They want HBO to use the internet to sell subscriptions directly to consumers instead of selling their product to major cable TV distributors.

A year later, after passing on the idea, HBO considered another step to rewrite media history: Some of its executives wanted HBO to buy Netflix, which at the time was a business of DVD rent-by-mail worth $ 1 billion.

Netflix is ​​now worth about $ 300 billion. And HBO, which hasn’t started selling itself Like the Netflix service until 2015, it was under pressure to keep up with not only Netflix but a host of streaming competitors, such as Disney+, Peacock, and Amazon Prime Video. Meanwhile, HBO’s parent company has changed three times in the past three years.

Both stories about non -HBO decisions, which I haven’t seen reported before, can be found on Tinderbox: HBO’s Violent Pursuit of New Frontiers, a new book on the oral history of journalist James Andrew Miller, who previously faced major media institutions such as ESPN and Saturday Night Live. The book is a 50-year story that is a part of behind-the-scenes viewing of game-changing movies made by HBO like. Game of Thrones, and a part behind the scenes of HBO history, with many GOT-as well as plot twists. I told Miller about it all this week Recode Media episode, which you can listen to below this post or on the podcast platform of your choice.

But just like raising an eyebrow at Miller’s stories, you don’t want to overemphasize the alternative histories they can.

Even if HBO and Time Warner, its parent company in 2005, decided to start selling the HBO program directly to consumers in the past, it may not have been successful. At that time, most U.S. homes did not yet have broadband internet. Above all, the cable TV industry that HBO relied on for its distribution in the past may have fought hard to make sure it didn’t move.

And buying Netflix in 2006 is no guarantee that HBO will be able to own the Netflix company it is today. If anything, once Netflix is ​​part of a large entertainment conglomerate, it is sure to make different decisions than it is a small player trying to figure out how to compete. entertainment conglomerates.

However, the stories that Miller opens up in his book are useful reminders that the accounts we often hear about media history – or any history – are the same: accounts, which are likely to be cleaned up and simplified, depending on who spoke to them.

In this case, HBO and Time Warner have always been painted as lumbering Big Media Dinosaurs blinded to the future. And the fact that the former Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes went out of his way to talk to Netflix and the rise of cable cord-cutting, when the two progress, helps to strengthen the argument. But the fact that at least a few HBO executives can see what’s going to happen in their industry complicates things: Do they have to get credit for their insight, even if they can’t?

Speaking of Bewkes, who treats Miller’s book well: He says that in 2014, he also understood what Netflix and the rest of his company’s technology business were doing, even though he didn’t say it publicly. : have to get or join someone to get what we need to compete with the digital giants, or, if that fails, sell Time Warner. … I told the board that in the longer term, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and maybe Apple will eliminate all media companies.

Bewkes even mentioned merging his company with Apple, but in his words, Apple disagreed with this: “I wish we could do that.”

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