HBO España ‘Fastest OTT Launch’ Yet, CEO Richard Plepler Says in Madrid

Plepler presents HBO España with Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Jessica Parker, star off “Divorce” and Liam Cunningham

MADRID — Airing from Nov. 28 as a standalone streaming service, HBO España’s bow in Spain has been “the fastest OTT launch so far,” HBO CEO Richard Plepler said at its presentation on Thursday in Madrid, accompanied by “Westworld’s” Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Jessica Parker, star of “Divorce,” and Liam Cunningham, Ser Davos in “Game of Thrones.”

Plepler used the occasion to not only talk up HBO’s artistic philosophy – “talent is sacred, storytellers are sacred,” he insisted – but explain how OTT allowed HBO greater “optionality” as it sought to grow its international business beyond its current value of over $1 billion a year.

The HBO CEO also underscored his belief that international markets, and original productions outside the U.S., will deliver significant growth for HBO. HBO original production hours in international increased about 50% in 2016, compared to 2015, according to Plepler. That drive into local original content will grow all the more in 2017, he added. “It’s part of our strategic planning to continue to put our foot on the accelerator, Plepler said.

HBO’s $1 billion-plus revenues from outside the U.S. represent “about 25% of opportunity,” Plepler told Variety.

HBO España’s OTT launch comes fast on the heels of HBO OTT bows last month in Argentina and Brazil. HBO launched OTT operations in Mexico and Colombia earlier this year. It has run an OTT operation, HBO Nordic, in Scandinavia from 2012, which has passed one million subscribers.

Currently, HBO uses different technological backbones for its OTT operations around the world. Plepler confirmed in Madrid that HBO will have one global OTT platform by third quarter 2017.

Going forward, international represents a large growth opportunity for HBO. But Spain – where HBO has switched from a multi-year licensing deal with Movistar Plus, the country’’s biggest pay TV operator, to a standalone streaming service – represents just one way to go for HBO.

“There is no one model fits all. Looking at all the [international] markets, we are essentially doing a couple of things,” Plepler told Variety.

He added: “Number one, the overarching strategy is to follow the money,” determining whether a market is better for a licensing deal, as HBO has in place with Foxtel in Australia, Canada’s Bell Media or Sky in the U.K., or if the territory has the potential “given where the brand is, augmenting with other programming,” of launching an OTT operation.

“The beauty of building one global platform which we are doing next year is that we will have the capacity, as we increasingly do now, to go OTT wherever we want to do it, if we think it’s a better business model,” Plepler explained.

Plepler also confirmed in Madrid that HBO would drive into original production in Spain. “We are aware that indigenous programming around the world always does better in that market than even the best U.S. programming,” he admitted, saying that “we would like to emphasise to the creative communities around the world that we are here to stay, to make local programming.”

Herve Payan, CEO of HBO Europe, cited three reasons for HBO España’s launch as a standalone service in Spain. “We chose Spain because the brand recognition here is huge. People expect a lot from us,” Payan said. He continued: “Second, the growth of broadband for this market is quite high which is important for OTT. Third, we have a strong partner in Vodafone.”

HBO España’s get-go surge underscores the power of convergence with Vodafone Spain offering the service free to its TV clients, or in a €40-€50 ($41-$52) a month bundle with fibre optic broadband. The company has appointed Miguel Salvat, a long-serving senior executive at Spain’s Canal Plus and then Movistar Plus, to oversee programming in Spain, including HBO’s push into original production.

Starting from scratch in Central Europe, HBO is now producing six-to-eight series per year in the region, on a basis of roughly one new series per country. Payan said that there was no fixed quota for how many original productions HBO aimed to make every year in Europe.

“If you have a good project, we will do it, to the limit of our budget, but that is quite large,” Payan commented in Madrid. An announcement is expected soon about HBO Nordic’s first original series, he added.

In Spain, it could take “two years” to produce a first series, Payan said. He added: “We want to go fast, but not rush because we are HBO. We always ask: Has it been done before? What touch can we add that is different? The whole question in our industry is quality.”

Payan added that HBO was ready to fully fund series but “flexible.” An OTT platform allowed HBO to look at younger-client-skewed series.

HBO already shoots all its series in 4k. It is waiting for the industry to decide in coming months on a single standard to shoot in 4K HDR. “4K is not very visible, unless you have a huge screen. HDR is visible, even on a small screen.” he argued.  Once there is an 4K HDR standard, “we will push like crazy,” said Payan.

Billed as the Home of Series, HBO España will bow one new series a week in 2017 beginning with “Taboo,” a British adventure miniseries from Scott Free Productions, starring Tom Hardy and Oona Chaplin. The new series will mix HBO original productions, both international and local, and third-party acquisitions. In a departure, HBO España has also launched with a new Family section, fuelled by a content agreement with Disney and Nickelodeon, said Payan.

Emiliano de Pablos and Jamie Lang contributed to this report

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