NICE AND EASY: Why do they call it HBO?

The graphic above, which was HBO’s original branding, sort of answers the question. But does it?

In order to understand how HBO came to be one of the first — if not the first — nationwide premium channel, you have to take a trip way back in time.

The 1970s: a different time

In 1970, very close to 100% of people got television signals over an antenna. Seriously, the number was over 90%. Those who didn’t worked with local companies who put up a really big antenna and distributed channels over a wire. This was called “master antenna television” and the whole purpose was to give better reception, not more channels.

The internet seems pretty much agreed that a person named Charles Dolan came up with the idea for a programming service distributed along with MATV and he sold a share of the idea to Time-Life, Inc. (which would eventually become WarnerMedia, part of AT&T.)

1972 and what “Box Office” meant

When Home Box Office launched in 1972, the idea was that it would carry sports programming. Its very first programs were sports programs for the Wilkes-Barre, PA television market. Although HBO was known for movies for most of its history, the “box office” that was coming “home” wasn’t the movie box office. It was the arena box office. It’s easy to imagine that at the time, HBO looked more like what NBC Sports Philadelphia looks like today.

And then it just took off.

By becoming the first network to distribute over satellite in 1975, HBO started to grow like gangbusters. Other competitors followed and each learned from each other. Noting the success of rival Showtime, HBO started to license movies. It also carried comedy specials and original documentaries.

HBO got a big boost when Time-Life merged with Warner Communications, giving the service access to the entire Warner Bros. film library.

And now it’s all about original programming.

Although HBO is still a great place for movies, for the last two decades it’s been known for original programming. Shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City started the trend, and of course by the 2010s the network was home to the biggest single show in history, Game of Thrones. HBO learned the lesson that by owning and creating its own content, it didn’t have to pay licensing fees. In fact HBO now licenses older programs to other services like Prime Video so it continues to generate profit.

What’s on HBO? Which channel?

HBO was also the first service to debut different versions of its service like HBO Comedy, HBO 2, and HBO Signature. These were more important in the days before DVRs and on demand. However these channels are still a strong part of the HBO strategy.

The box office is still strong.

Today we don’t say “Home Box Office” and we don’t even think about it when we just say “HBO.” It’s on all our screens, and we can even watch it when we’re not “home.” It’s HBO, and it’s wherever we want it to be.

To add HBO to your DIRECTV or DISH subscription, call Solid Signal at 888-233-7563.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.