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HBO Latin America Built Formidable Pay TV Biz in Region

After 25 years, HBO Latin America has much to celebrate.

When HBO joined forces with Ole Communications in 1991 to deliver a pioneering premium entertainment service in the region, it had to contend with an underdeveloped cable/satellite infrastructure and rampant piracy. While piracy remains an issue, HBO Latin America has grown exponentially into a multiplatform, multi-channel TV service available across all of Latin America and the Caribbean during the past quarter century. Cable and satellite services have introduced new technology, and broadband internet services continue to expand.

There is a perplexing array of statistics about the market, but one thing is clear: Pay TV has become a force to contend with in Latin America.

“What is undeniable is that pay TV penetration is now at more than 50% in most territories,” says HBO Latin America CEO Emilio Rubio.

Broadband penetration in the region averages 35% as of the fourth quarter last year, per research company Dataxis, with Argentina and Chile reporting a 50.4% penetration, followed by Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. Citing the market’s dynamism, “we’ve been forced to reinvent the way we do business every six to eight years,” Rubio says.

“In some countries, especially in the Southern Cone, there were no set-top boxes, so we had to start distributing our premium service in analog,” says Francisco Smith, HBO Latin America executive VP, media distribution & development, who has been with the company since its launch under the banner HBO Ole.

Today, HBO Latin America encompasses 10 linear channels serving three different time zones (Brazil, Mexico/Central America, and Southern Cone), where high-definition versions and on-demand services have been introduced over the past five to seven years. In 2012, its digital offshoot HBO Go came on the market to complement HBO LatAm’s pay TV service, and is offered free to HBO and Max package subscribers. It competes against the likes of Fox Play, ESPN Play, TNT Go and Space Go, of which Fox Play currently leads the pack.

In a move aimed at helping HBO better compete against Netflix, which already offers subscription VOD service across the region, an upgraded version of HBO Go (2.0) has launched in Colombia and Mexico with an a la carte online subscription option via a participating distributor. A roll-out to other territories will follow suit.

However, there are no plans to launch HBO Now in the region, according to Rubio. That standalone streaming service, which launched April 2015 in the U.S., allows consumers to access HBO programming without a cable or satellite TV subscription.

HBO Latin America airs more than 2,500 titles, including full seasons of original series from the U.S., plus all the HBO LatAm original shows produced over more than 10 years.

Among these titles are 70% of Hollywood’s top box-office movies, thanks to strategic deals with Universal, Sony, Warner, and Disney. Its five HBO-branded networks offer the first non-theatrical window access to the latest films, allowing its customers to see more recent releases on HBO compared to any other SVOD service in the region.

With “Epitafios” (2004), HBO Latin America’s first local original production, it brought cinematic production values to television, with higher budgets per episode than ever produced in the region.
Production has since doubled, expanding to documentaries and short-form content with some series franchises already on their third or prepping a fourth season. “In three years’ time, we’ll hopefully be producing 100 hours of original content; seven to eight shows on a yearly basis,” says Rubio.
HBO Latin America expects to meet the challenges of an ever-fragmented audience demanding television wherever and whenever they want it.

“Latin America is a puzzle, with each territory in different stages [technologically],” says Smith. But more direct-to-home operators have grown in the past 10 years to include HD, tiering, and the segmentation of packages, he notes, giving “HBO Latin America more flexibility to strategically tailor its shows to each territory.”

Concurs Rubio: “We just want to make sure that our viewers have the ability to watch HBO everywhere and in the best way possible, with the best experience.”

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