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Strictly Business Podcast: HBO CEO Richard Plepler on Winning the Streaming Wars

HBO chairman/CEO Richard Plepler has done the math on peak TV, and it all adds up as long as his brand stays healthy.

Take the 487 scripted series currently on TV, which amounts to 5,000 hours of programming, and add that to the 750 unscripted series that amount to 4,000 hours, and you get a total of 9,000 hours of originals on the air–and yet there’s only 8,760 hours in a year.

“So what does that mean?” said Plepler. “It means you can’t keep track of everything, and brands matter more than ever.”

Welcome to Strictly Business, Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. In this week’s episode, Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein talks with Plepler about navigating HBO through what may be the most fiercely competitive environment the brand has faced in its 45-year history.

But he’s got an ambitious goal for HBO: to penetrate half of all pay-TV households.  Plepler is also very bullish on the company’s future even as it’s a bit cloudy due to the still-pending verdict of the government’s case against the acquisition of its parent company, Time Warner, by AT&T.

“Despite this surfeit of content, we have more extraordinary writers, producers and directors that want to work for HBO than ever before,” said Plepler last week at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit in New York. “We have that embarrassment of riches.”

Keeping the buzz going over HBO’s slate of originals, from “Game of Thrones” to “Westworld,” doesn’t come cheaply, particularly as deeper-pocketed streaming services Netflix and Amazon compete for talent and projects. But Plepler believes HBO can hold its own.

“We understand the cost of content has gone up,” he said.  “We understand there’s a premium on that and that there’s a multiple on that and we have to pay it. But we’re more willing though to do it because the return on that investment is as strong as it is.”

Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring comedian/actor/producer Kevin Hart, ICM Partners agent Esther Newberg, and Marvel marketing guru Mindy Hamilton. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

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