HBO Upgrading HBO Go for a Future It’s Not Ready to Embrace

Game of Thrones

CEO hints at possibility of buying HBO Go without subscribing to the channel

Consumers could eventually be able to buy HBO Go without having to pay for a subscription to the pay-TV channel if the latest series of hints from HBO CEO Richard Plepler are to be believed–just not anytime soon.

For months now, Plepler has repeatedly suggested such an offering is a possibility, and his appearance Thursday at the Nomura  Global Media & Telecom Summit was no exception. This time he went so far as to suggest HBO Go was being upgraded to ensure unspecified consumer “flexibility” and “optionality” while simultaneously making abundantly clear a standalone HBO Go is in no way imminent.

“Right now we have the right model,” said Plepler. ” If we determine down the road that we want to pivot in some way, we’ll be ready to do that. [HBO chief technology officer] Otto Berkes  is working with engineers to improve that product. One thing that will not happen in the coming years is we won’t be caught unable to pivot if we so choose but for now, we’re running our business just as we want to run it.”

Plepler likened the current iteration of HBO Go to a BMW 5 Series, but suggested the company wanted to “build the 7 Series. We are working with engineers to do that,” he said, though stopped short of suggesting specific functionality enhancements or release timetable.

The rationale for HBO sticking to its knitting is that that the cost of chasing a relatively small market of broadband-only subscribers is prohibitive, especially when there’s still a much bigger market in the U.S.–about 70 million–who are pay-TV customers who don’t get HBO.

Plepler also reiterated that HBO is unconcerned with the anecdotal evidence suggesting password-sharing for HBO Go is rampant. “Everything we can see on password-sharing is that its very small, that it’s almost nonexistent,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Time to Free HBO Go From its TV Shackles

On a counterintuitive note, Plepler also talked up the importance of the movies that HBO gets from its theatrical output deals relative to the original programming that typically gets much more attention. He shared stats noting that 81% of the content viewing on HBO is theatrical movies and that 40% of its subscribers don’t even watch original programming.

“While original programming is the halo of our brand, our subscribers love the movie,” he said. “Securing that theatrical advantage was very important. Huge advantage with our affiliates and our customers.”

At a time when Netflix is aggressively hawking its original programming like “Arrested Development,” it was a good time to tout a series of deals last year that saw HBO increase its advantage over pay-TV rivals like Starz and Showtime as well as Netflix, which will take over the Disney output deal from Starz beginning in 2016.  While Netflix, Epix and Starz each have a single output deal with a major studio, HBO now has 3.5 such deals.

“I think people thought in the financial community that we were going to lose that advantage,” said Plepler. “We didn’t.”

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  1. FrankM says:

    People can get HBO from their cable company after they purchase the ‘basic’ tier which is usually broadcast, religious, shopping, and public service channels. This is an outdated remnant of the 1992 cable act. HBO should be pushing cable operators to offer HBO without this buy-through tier, especially with operators that are scrambling the basic tier. The remaining expense at that point is the cable box (or cable card). Again, HBO should be pushing cable companies provide cable boxes/cable cards for free or at a discounted rate to HBO-only subscribers, and also should be immune to other BS fees.

    Those 70M cable subscribers that do not have HBO cannot justify the additional expense that adding more services for more money. There are only 24 hours in a day, and the more channels that you have, the less time that you are watching each of them. If customers could bypass the silly “you have to buy this first to get HBO” expenses, that would mean more subscribers for them.

    Current cheapest way of getting HBO for one TV from my local Comcast:

    limited basic: $17.75
    cable card (first device) $0.00
    HD technology fee: 8.95
    HBO: 17.99

    So…. 536.28 per year! Do you know how many DVDs/Blu-rays of HBO shows that I could buy with that money instead (especially used)? How many redbox movie rentals?

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