HBO is probably the United States' most popular and acclaimed cable network, closely linked to the so-called 'golden era' of television thanks to a string of massive shows including The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, and Westworld.
Despite that success, and the popularity of those massive shows, it's surprisingly difficult to watch HBO live or browse its back catalogue in the UK or many other countries beyond the US. Here's how to watch HBO live or access the network's back catalogue through the HBO Now streaming service from anywhere, along with the best ways to watch HBO shows on UK channels.
Due to the pandemic, HBO is making nine of it's original shows, ten documentaries and twenty Warner Bros films available to stream for free. Read on to find out how you can take advantage.
How to watch HBO Now in the UK
If you want guaranteed access to everything HBO produces - including its extensive back catalogue - the easiest, cheapest legal method is to sign up for the HBO Now streaming service. Usually this costs $15 per month with a free trial, but right now the streaming service has a free option with a select number of films and shows for a limited time (no date has been given as to when it ends).
The full version of this Netflix-esque streaming platform lets you watch all of HBO's content. While it doesn't include the option to live stream the HBO channel itself, it does add most original programming and films within minutes of the start time, so you can watch the latest Westworld episode almost-live.
The big downside is that HBO uses geo-targeting to block users from outside of the US, so if you head to the HBO Now website you'll just see an error message. Of course, there is a way round this: use a VPN. This masks your IP address, allowing you to browse the web as if you're based in another country - in this case, as long as you connect through a US server, HBO will believe you're trying to watch from the US.
Our most recommended VPN is NordVPN, which you can sign up to from £2.29/$2.75 per month, but check out our guide to the best VPNs for streaming video if you want to look at some of the other VPNs we've tested that are particularly well suited to streaming platforms like HBO Now.
Once you've signed up for your VPN of choice, simply activate it (making sure to select a US server) and head to the HBO Now website, or get hold of the HBO Now app on your device of choice. You should then be able to watch as if you were in the US.
Free shows and films on HBO
If you'd like a quick preview on what's available for free on HBO Now and HBO Go during the pandemic, here's a list:
HBO Originals (full seasons)
- The Sopranos
- The Wire
- True Blood
- Six Feet Under
- Silicon Valley
- The Apollo
- The Case Against Adnan Syed
- Elvis Presley: The Searcher
- I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
- The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
- Jane Fonda in Five Acts
- True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality
- United Skates
- We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest
Warner Bros films
- Arthur 2: On the Rocks
- Blinded By the Light
- The Bridges of Madison County
- Crazy, Stupid, Love
- Empire of the Sun
- Forget Paris
- Happy Feet Two
- Isn’t It Romantic?
- The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
- Midnight Special
- My Dog Skip
- Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase
- Pokémon Detective Pikachu
- Red Riding Hood
- Sucker Punch
HBO Now vs HBO Go vs HBO Max
There's one small potential confusion worth clearing up: the difference between HBO Now, HBO Go, and HBO Max.
For reasons best known to itself, HBO currently operates two separate streaming services which offer almost identical features and interfaces, with a third on the way that's a little different, and it's a little confusing to the novice. The main difference is how you pay for them though: HBO Now is a standalone service that anyone can sign up to for $15 a month, while HBO Go is provided to existing HBO cable subscribers free of charge.
If you're not in the US you're almost certainly not paying for HBO on cable, so you won't be able to sign up for HBO Go anyway. However, if you are a US cable subscriber who's staying or living abroad, you should be able to access HBO Go through a VPN just as you can with HBO Now. It's worth noting that the HBO Go website is also offering the same library of free content during the pandemic as HBO Now.
HBO Max is a different beast. Due to launch in 2020, this streaming service will combine HBO's own content with new exclusives and other material from WarnerMedia's portfolio. That means you get HBO series along with the likes of Friends and Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
New content will include at least six original movies, and TV shows on the way including Dune: The Sisterhood, a Gremlins animated series, and a rom-com anthology series from Anna Kendrick called Love Life. There's no concrete release date or pricing for HBO Max yet though, so for the moment you only have to worry about Now and Go.
Watch HBO on Amazon Prime
The other option for watching HBO is to pay for the company's Amazon Prime Video Channel.
If you're not familiar with Amazon Channels, they're basically ways to access another company's content through the main Amazon Prime Video interface. It doesn't really save you any money - the monthly fee for HBO is still $14.99 - but it does let you keep all your content in the same place and use the same apps and devices if you're already a Prime Video customer, or use a Fire tablet or Fire TV.
Bear in mind that the HBO channel is still US-only, so if you're in the UK or the rest of the world you'll still have to use a VPN to access the content - but at least you can keep it all within your existing Amazon services.
Watch HBO shows on Sky Atlantic or Now TV
If signing up for both a VPN and HBO Now sounds like too much work - or money - then there is one more option in the UK: Sky Atlantic.
Sky has a deal with HBO to exclusively air the American network's shows in the UK, meaning that most major HBO shows - including both Game of Thrones and Westworld - air on Sky Atlantic. Some of these shows are even aired at the same time as in the US, so you don't have to risk GoT spoilers from American viewers. In addition to that the channel offers a number of shows from other premium American networks such as AMC and Showtime.
Because of that premium content, you can't add Sky Atlantic to a TV package with another provider - it's exclusive to Sky subscribers. So if you want to watch the latest HBO shows on Sky Atlantic you'll need to sign up to Sky - the channel is included in the Sky Entertainment package from £20 a month.
There is a cheaper way to access the same content: Sky Atlantic's shows are also included in the Now TV Entertainment Pass, which costs £8.99 per month and allows you to stream a variety of TV shows - from Sky channels and beyond, including the HBO series - from your phone, games console, smart TV, or PC. You can try it right now thanks to a 7-day free trial too.
Now TV is definitely the cheapest way to watch HBO shows in the UK, but it does come with one big disadvantage: while it always has the most recent shows, the service's access to the back catalogue varies considerably as licensing deals change. That means that at some points it will have every season of Game of Thrones, or the entirety of The Sopranos, but the next month it might be gone, so it's a less reliable way to watch old HBO shows than HBO Now is.