NEW YORK — Non-HBO subscribers will soon be able to watch some of the network’s old TV shows, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” on Amazon Prime’s streaming video service.
Amazon described the deal as a first for HBO, which has a reputation for being tightfisted with its library of hit shows, even ones that stopped airing years ago.
The HBO shows will be a significant addition to Amazon Prime as it attempts to sign up more monthly subscribers.
The deal draws a bright line between old and new. The seasons of “Girls,” “The Newsroom” and “Veep” that are premiering this year won’t be available through Amazon Prime for approximately three years. That means if viewers want to stay current, they have to subscribe to cable television and HBO (or borrow a friend’s HBO GO password).
But a more casual type of viewer, who maybe wants to binge on every season of “Six Feet Under” or “Deadwood” for example, will now be able to do so through Amazon.
Previously, the only way for people without HBO to watch the network’s shows would be by purchasing DVDs or individual episodes through Amazon or Apple’s iTunes store.
In essence, HBO is creating what is known in Hollywood as a new “window” for its programming, extracting more value from older shows.
The deal also includes early seasons of series that are still on the air, such as “True Blood” and “Boardwalk Empire.” (But not the most recent seasons.)
The companies did not disclose any plans for when HBO’s current biggest hit, “Game of Thrones”, would be available on Prime.
There was also no discussion of “True Detective,” a new HBO show with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson that debuted earlier this year to rave critical reviews and quickly became a buzzy, pop culture phenomenon.
HBO is owned by Time Warner, which is also the parent company of CNNMoney.
Amazon and HBO said the first shows would start to appear on Prime on May 21, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
Some analysts immediately called the licensing deal a loss for Netflix, though Netflix has made a point of saying it doesn’t see Amazon as its chief rival.
“Since much of the content on Netflix and Amazon Prime (as well as Hulu in the U.S.) is mutually exclusive, many consumers see value in subscribing to all three networks,” Netflix said in its quarterly letter to shareholders earlier this week. Hulu is an online streaming video service owned by a conglomerate of several big media firms.
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