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HBO Chief Downplays Binge Viewing; Says Turner, Warner Bros. Content Could Join HBO Now

HBO CEO Richard Plepler said he was pleased with the reception the premium channel’s new standalone service had received since launching in April, but declined to provide any subscription data.

“We’re out of the gate fast,” Plepler said during a call with analysts following Time Warner’s quarterly earnings announcement.

HBO, which is a division of Time Warner, is forging into the world of streaming with the hopes of attracting 10 million to 15 million potential customers it says are interested only in broadband video services. That argument has been coolly received by some cable operators, however, who fear that the online-only platform could entice subscribers to cut the cord and abandon the cable bundle for cheaper digital offerings.

Currently, HBO Now is available via Apple TV and Apple iOS devices, as well as through Cablevision’s Optimum Online internet service. The number of providers could quickly grow, Plepler said, describing conversations with other cable and satellite providers about potentially adding HBO Now to their offerings as “highly productive.” He expects deals will be in place by the end of 2015.

Part of HBO’s pitch to cable providers is that the online service adds customers who need access to better broadband. To that end, Plepler stressed that so far it does not appear that the standalone service is taking customers away from its cable offerings. “It’s an expansion of the pie,” he said.

HBO Now offers access to shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Girls” and “Veep” along with the network’s original films and movies it hosts from studios like Fox. That roster of programming could become more extensive, Plepler said. “We think the HBO Now product as it currently exists is quite extraordinary,” he said, but added he was “very flexible” about possibly adding content from its corporate cousins Warner Bros. and Turner.

Time Warner chairman Jeff Bewkes said that the partnership with Apple has been a fruitful one so far and predicted that the tech giant will eventually offer its own packages of TV content.

“We think Apple is very forward-thinking about television and the combination of TV and Internet,” said Bewkes.

HBO Now’s launch is a shot across the bow of Netflix, which has cornered the market on edgy, online programming such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” However, the premium cable channel scoffed at suggestions it might debut a full season’s worth of programming simultaneously in order to cater to so-called binge viewers.

Plepler said HBO prefers to have shows like “The Jinx,” its twisty true-life murder tale, build an audience over the course of a season by “continuing the conversation over eight weeks, 10 weeks, or 12 weeks.”

Parroting Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” Bewkes joked, “You can’t handle the binge.”

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