HBO does not operate as a subscription service in Japan and for many years HBO content has instead been licensed to local players, including satellite channel Super! drama TV and pay-TV platform Wowow. Other players that have previously carried HBO content in Japan include Amazon (following a January 2018 deal) and Nippon TV-owned Hulu Japan.
While U-Next used a press conference on Tuesday to describe the deal as “exclusive” Variety understands that the deal pertains to HBO and HBO Max series and HBO films only. It includes new series and a selection of HBO library content, including HBO films. WarnerMedia, however, will continue to license content to other partners in the market.
U-Next COO Honda Toshihiko said the streamer will not necessarily release new content in Japan on a day-and-date basis with the rest of the world. Instead, it will determine the local release date by taking into account the need for Japanese dubbing and other factors. Also, working together with local distributors, it may establish theatrical windows for some HBO films.
U-Next president Tsutsumi Tenshin predicted that, boosted by the new content, the streamer may be able to increase its subscribers from the current 2 million to between 2.5 and 3 million.
How long that boon will endure is unclear. WarnerMedia launched its own direct-to-consumer streaming service HBO Max in May 2020. HBO Max will start to expand globally this year, with a mid-year launch in Latin America being the first of many around the world.
Among the titles U-Next will start streaming from April 1 is the HBO Max series “Raised by Wolves,” which is executive produced and partly directed by Ridley Scott. Another is the two-part HBO original documentary “Tiger” about golfer Tiger Woods.
U-Next is a subsidiary of Usen-Next Holdings, a conglomerate with interests in retail, telecommunications, business systems, content and energy. Though the current iteration of U-Next was established in June 2017, the company can trace its DNA back to GyaO, a pioneering streaming service that launched in 2007, but changed its name to U-Next in 2009.
U-Next is currently Japan’s third-largest streamer after Netflix and Amazon Prime. Through its Japanese anime roster is strong, its selection of foreign drama content has long been relatively weak.