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HBO Now and Apple TV make this a great time to cut the cable cord

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(Read caption) Richard Plepler, CEO of HBO, talks about HBO Now for Apple TV during an Apple event Monday, March 9, 2015, in San Francisco.

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If you've been on the fence about canceling your cable subscription, Apple CEO Tim Cook's announcement Monday may be all the convincing you need to finally take the plunge.

We were pretty excited when HBO announced plans for a stand-alone streaming offering last October. It makes HBO the first to break away from premium cable packaging, offering an a la carte option for a growing segment of viewers who consume their television via streaming channels. The move puts HBO in territory currently associated with players like Netflix and Amazon, which despite winning multiple Emmys have never seen the inside of a cable lineup. It makes HBO the major first studio/channel to exist in both worlds.

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The news has been especially welcome for would-be cord cutters, for whom canceling cable also meant losing access to highly rated programming like Game of Thrones, Girls, and my own new favorite thing on TV, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. Like many out there, losing access to HBO Go has been one of the biggest reasons I've kept my own cable subscription going even though going cable-free is an increasingly attractive option. I'm guessing that many of us have been holding out since the October announcement, waiting for it to be a real thing before making our move.

With today's announcement from Apple, we now know these four very important things:

  1. That streaming-only option is HBO Now, and will launch in April 2015 for $14.99/month.
  2. HBO Now will include "instant access to every episode of every season of HBO’s award-winning original shows and Hollywood blockbusters" (source: Apple.com)
  3. It is exclusively available on Apple TV, iPhone or iPad for the first 3 months.
  4. The price of an Apple TV drops from $99 to $69 starting today.

So what does all of this mean?

Fence-sitters like me no longer have an excuse to wait.

If your Game of Thrones addiction has been the only thing stopping you from canceling your cable, you are out of excuses. In fact, a brand new Game of Thrones trailer was rolled out during the announcement, and the launch is clearly designed to coincide with the start of Season 5 next month.

Plus, as part of the launch, if you use an Apple device to sign up for HBO Now, your first month will be free.

Apple TV is taking a big swipe at the streaming market.

Our biggest criticism of Apple TV as a streaming option always has been that it was priced much higher than some really good, more affordable devices like Roku and Chromecast. Unless you were really into Apple TV's more advanced features, it made little sense for most of us to choose it. At $69, however, the Apple TV is now a true contender, on nearly equal footing with Roku HD. In fact, the new $69 price tag is an all-time low for Apple TV. The previous lowest price we found was $72 - and that was for a refurbished model.

However, Brad's Deals Tech Editor David D., notes that none of this will be particularly special three months from now.

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"Apple does not support Amazon Prime streaming, while Fire TV does, as well as Roku," he points out. "Once those guys get HBO to go, Apple will go back to being the inferior contender."

Bottom line: If all you do through Amazon is rent movies, you'll probably move on to iTunes without a hitch. On the other hand, fans of Amazon's original programming like Emmy winner Transparent and the Prime video library will want to wait for HBO Now to be available on other devices.

Do not under any circumstances pay more than $69 for an Apple TV, effective immediately.

The price drop from $99 to $69 has already debuted at the Apple Store, but secondary retailers like Amazon and Best Buy are still selling at price points above $90. This difference isn't likely to last long, but for now, going though Apple directly is the cheapest option, saving you around $30. (We don't get to say that about Apple very often!)

Not an Apple fan? You may get your turn in July.

Roku and Chromecast fans, take heart: BusinessWeek's Joshua Brustein, reports that the exclusivity agreement will only last 3 months.

So let's hear it, cord-cutters - are you as excited about HBO Now as I am? Will this be the thing that frees you from cable once and for all?


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