In a Paley Media Council interview Thursday with CNN’s Brian Stelter, HBO CEO Richard Plepler was asked whether viewers could expect to see Stewart, former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” on HBO before the general election.
“Yeah, I’m hopeful,” Plepler said.
Stewart signed a four-year production deal with HBO in November, three months after ending his Comedy Central run. The first project under that deal involves working with 3D graphics company OTOY on the creation of short-form video projects.
Plepler described Stewart’s approach to his upcoming HBO work as improvisational.
“It is a perfect example of bringing a remarkable original voice into the house, giving a new opportunity of expression to that original voice and saying, ‘We now have the flexibility to let you paint however you want to,'” Plepler said. “My hunch is it will evolve over time. It will iterate over time.” He added, “He has free reign to do whatever he wants.”
When HBO announced Stewart’s deal last year, it noted that Stewart’s initial short-form work would be geared toward HBO Now, the company’s standalone streaming-video service that allows viewers to subscribe to HBO without subscribing to cable. Plepler insisted Thursday that the service has not cannibalized cable subscribers, but has instead been additive.
“Less than 1% of our subscriber base has left a [cable] subscription to go get HBO Now,” Plepler said. “It’s really part of a cord-never environment.”
Plepler said that the company is focusing on forming partnerships with broadband providers such as Charter Communications, whose merger with Time Warner Cable is pending regulator approval, to bundle HBO Now with broadband subscriptions.
On the programming side, Plepler pointed to recent partnerships with Stewart, Beyonce, Bill Simmons and Vice as evidence that it is not resting on its laurels as “Game of Thrones,” the network’s most-watched series, begins to wind down toward an eighth and final season. He also emphasized the network’s deals to carry theatrical movies such as “Jurassic World,” which he said account for more than 60% of digital viewing and more than 70% of television viewing for the brand.
Speaking one day after the Time Warner earnings call, Plepler declined to reveal subscriber numbers for HBO Now. But he did predict continued U.S. subscriber growth overall.
“I think we can grow another 12-and-a-half to 15 million homes over the coming years,” he said. “Our data on this is very, very clear.”
Asked about competition from Netflix and others, Plepler said that he sends congratulatory notes “all the time” to HBO’s competitors, including Fox Networks Group’s Peter Rice, FX’s John Landgraf and Netflix’s Reed Hastings.
He also dismissed as “silly” the notion of an HBO-against-Netflix rivalry, noting that HBO over-indexes in Netflix-subscribed homes and vice versa.
“I think it’s HBO and Netflix, not HBO or Netflix,” he said.