HBO has deep roots well beyond the U.S. The premium cabler has long licensed its original programming in overseas markets. But the company’s recent focus has been to launch standalone linear and digital channels in markets that are hungry for high-end TV and seeing growth in broadband penetration.
HBO’s expanding portfolio of channels is organized into three main regions: Latin America, Europe and Asia. In many areas, HBO is in a footrace with Netflix and Amazon to gain and hold on to market share. Having more channels creates a need for more original series tailored to local tastes. HBO is investing heavily in development and production infrastructure to generate the kind of indigenous programs that make a streaming service more valuable to subscribers with no shortage of entertainment options. Here’s a deeper look at its regional operations.
HBO Latin America Group
President: Emilio Rubio
HBO has had a strong presence in Latin America in various incarnations since the early 1990s. It has standalone channels operating in more than 30 territories across Central and South America and the Caribbean. The bulk of growth at present is coming from Brazil, Argentina and Chile, according to Emilio Rubio, president of HBO Latin America Group.
The group has a well-established production infrastructure that yields original programming tailored for its biggest markets, notably Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. The roster has long included unscripted talk and variety shows and documentaries, while the emphasis on scripted dramas has solidified over the past decade. These programs have the added benefit of feeding the HBO Latino service in the U.S., and they can be licensed outside of HBO markets to buyers around the world.
Argentina’s “El Jardin de Bronce” made a splash earlier this year in a number of HBO international markets, including HBO Nordic and HBO Spain. The 13-episode thriller revolves around a man searching for his 4-year-old daughter who disappeared while riding the subway in Buenos Aires. Rubio, who joined HBO in Venezuela in 1992, has high hopes for “A Vida Secreta dos Casais,” a new Brazilian drama about a sex therapist who gets caught up in a complex web of government corruption.
Targeting millennials is also a focus. HBO Mexico recruited local YouTube star Chumel Torres to host a “Last Week Tonight”-esque series, “Chumel con Chumel Torres,” that has had real heat in the market. The plan is to expand the format to a Brazilian edition.
“We wanted to make sure we were producing relevant shows for millennials,” Rubio says. The association with Torres “has been amazing for us in Mexico.”
CEO: Herve Payan
Europe has been a hive of activity for HBO during the past few years. The December 2012 launch of HBO Nordic was the OTT canary in the coal mine for the company.
HBO Nordic is offered across Scandinavian markets as a stand-alone streaming offering. The debut had plenty of hiccups. Existing licensing deals in the region kept some HBO classics such a “Deadwood” from immediately being available despite having marketed the service as offering broad access to HBO’s vault. There were technical issues and limitations for consumers in accessing the service via Apple TV, Xbox and PlayStation platforms.
Those early issues aside, HBO Nordic has been enough of a success to encourage the launch late last year of HBO Spain via OTT in a distribution partnership with the nation’s dominant telco provider, Vodaphone.
HBO also has linear channels serving a broad section of central and eastern Europe, notably Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
“The growth in OTT is really fueling the growth of HBO Europe,” says HBO Europe CEO Herve Payan. “The traditional [linear] business is also growing but OTT is booming.”
There are plans to launch complementary streaming in central and eastern Europe. HBO seeks to be nimble about partnering with existing distributors in territories where there are advantageous opportunities — including with Vodaphone in Spain — or going it alone with a direct-to-consumer play.
Payan, a veteran Euro TV executive, came to HBO in 2012 to launch HBO Nordic. He was promoted to CEO of HBO Europe in late 2015. HBO Europe channels are revving up a host of original series to keep the services attractive. Programs developed with local sensibilities in mind nonetheless can play broadly across the group.
HBO Nordic is planning a 2019 debut for its original series, dramedy “Gosta” about a child psychologist in Sweden who moves from a big city to a small town. HBO Spain is developing an adaptation of “Patria,” the best-selling novel examining the Basque conflict.
HBO Europe’s established original series include “Wasteland.” The psychological mystery from the Czech Republic revolves around the search for the missing daughter of the mayor of a village. “The Pact,” produced in Poland, is a thriller about a corporate fraud case that leads to a larger government conspiracy.
CEO: Jonathan Spink
Asia is still a newer territory for HBO relative to its foothold in Latin America and Europe. Singapore-based HBO Asia reaches 23 major territories with linear channels or on-demand offerings distributed through local partners.
Expanding in China is a big goal for HBO Asia CEO Jonathan Spink. The company last year partnered with China Movie Channel to produce a slate of martial arts movies. Spink sees potential in emerging markets such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar.
“A bunch of our local affiliates are really exploring OTT opportunities and we’re eager to explore it with them,” he says.
Local productions of note for HBO Asia include Taiwan’s “The Teenage Psychic,” which revolves around a 16-year-old girl who yearns for a normal life despite seeing spirits. “Halfworlds,” the first HBO Asia original series to be renewed for a second season, is a fantasy vehicle set in Thailand and Indonesia that centers on a tenacious female researcher who battles demons while searching for an ancient artifact.
“Our local-language productions are really working,” Spink says. “Integrating more local-language product
with the great [U.S.] series and Hollywood movies that we have makes for a very compelling offering.”
(Pictured: “El Jardin de Bronce”)