The Smart Strategy of HBO

HBO was founded 45 years ago. It’s almost hard to believe, but even in a cordcutter world, HBO doesn’t plan on going away anytime soon. SNL Kagan estimates that HBO averages about 34 million U.S. subscribers, with more than 2 million of those coming from HBO Now, its direct-to-consumer subscriber service. HBO’s original premise, uncut Hollywood movies, still remains a large part of the brand. However, remaining relevant requires more than leaning on the past.

The Move to OTT

In 2012, Richard Plepler was named CEO. After taking a look at how well users reacted to the HBO Go platform, he knew HBO needed to build an OTT vehicle. Others predicted that OTT would cannibalize their core business with traditional cable and satellite providers, but Plepler insisted that HBO Now would be a success. “We put the lie to the idea that the pie couldn’t get bigger,” Plepler said. “People felt that people would drop HBO … but we have had less than 1% cannibalization of our core business.”

Don’t Mind the Competition

Some would say the streaming industry is a tough one, but Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime don’t worry Plepler. HBO dominated the 2017 Emmys, with 29 wins – more than any other network. “We’ve lived with competition for our entire existence, and we’ve always said, ‘Play our game, be the best that we can be, elevate our brand, and do the kind of work that we’re going to be proud of,’” Plepler said in 2016. “If we do that, irrespective of competition, we’re going to have more than our fair share of acclaim and attention, and I think we’ve proven that to be true.” The success of another show or company does not diminish HBO’s own success. Plepler’s vision is to focus on delivering on HBO’s promise to each customer.

Don’t Stay Idle

Nearly a decade ago The Sopranos was HBO’s most popular show (only surpassed now by Game of Thrones). As the show came to an end, HBO faced a world of uncertainty. Some wondered if HBO would even be able to survive without the show. Now HBO is once again at a crossroads as the final season of Game of Thrones is filmed. Hit shows such as Thrones garner HBO a somewhat privileged position. On the day of the “Game of Thrones” premiere, the increase in revenue was so substantive that HBO NOW jumped up the top grossing chart by 11 ranks in the U.S., compared to the day prior.

The industry has been abuzz, trying to figure out how HBO will keep the Game of Thrones mojo going and capitalize on the show’s massive popularity. This summer, HBO released the first episode of a new series tied to its premier series, “The Game Revealed,” a short series giving fans behind-the-scenes looks and interviews. A number of other spin-offs are also planned to keep fans addicted. HBO also has a smattering of other popular shows, though they don’t come close to Thrones level of popularity.

Will HBO’s head-on, eyes-ahead strategy maintain their momentum? Only time will tell.