Is the glass half full or empty when it comes to HBO Now? That’s one of the big questions coming out of Time Warner’s quarterly earnings call after HBO chief Richard Plepler disclosed that the stand-alone subscription streaming service has 800,000 subscribers — ahead of a plan to launch an aggressive marketing effort later this year.
The number may seem light considering the number of consumers who were clambering for Time Warner to offer HBO programming to those who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite TV. But Plepler seemed to bristle during the call when one analyst said that he “only” has 800,000.
“I wouldn’t say ‘only’,” he said. “We’re just getting started. We’re going to make a lot of progress as we put new content on, and new platforms.” He’s optimistic about offerings from John Stewart, Vice News, and Bill Simmons, and notes that HBO Now is not yet available on PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles which account for about 20% of the viewing for HBO Go.
Plepler added that the number doesn’t reflect lack of interest by distributors — including cable operators that also offer broadband.
“They’re very excited about it,” Plepler says. “As our deals come up for renewal I think we’ll see different kinds of packaging. If they want to sell HBO in a skinny bundle, fantastic. If they want to sell HBO in a triple play, fantastic….This is a win-win.”
The talk about digital followed CEO Jeff Bewkes’ pitch that the growth of viewing options — seen as a threat to the lucrative pay TV package — should help Time Warner’s ability to sell its premium TV series and movies.
The CEO declined to address recent reports that Time Warner might join Disney, Fox and Comcast as an owner of Hulu.
He added, though, that it’s “becoming crystal clear” that consumers want to be able to “watch their favorite show or network on demand.” To that end the company’s Turner networks are “determined to deliver” more shows to streaming and pay TV on-demand services while Warner Bros “sells to every kind of network….This consumer demand is going to be satisfied and it’s going to be good for any consumer brand” with attractive offerings.
As for Warner Bros., execs described 2016 as “a challenging year” as the studio faces comparisons with last year’s licensing deals for shows including 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld, and Friends.
Studio chief Kevin Tsujihara says that television sales should become less of a roller coaster as opportunities expand to syndicate to digital services. For example, Supergirl — the new series on CBS — “won’t have the same kinds of one-time lumpiness” when it’s ready for syndication.
He adds that 2016 and 2017 will be “big film years” with releases including Batman Vs Superman aiming to set up new franchises. “Film and games will more than offset the difficult comps from TV and we will have strong growth in 2016.”