In this week's View from the Top interview, Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks to HBO CEO Richard Plepler about the new "Game of Thrones" season, how the company is going after millennials and what he sees as the future of HBO and television. The company now offers a paid subscription to stream HBO called "HBO Now." It's distinct from its "HBO Go" service, which requires a cable subscription to HBO.
Interview Highlights: Richard Plepler
On problems people had streaming 'Game of Thrones' with HBO Now
“I think it was a very short delay due to an enormous amount of traffic but we quickly righted it and I think it was about a 10 minute delay and everybody was back on and we had the highest viewership Sunday night, I’m proud to say, in our history for any one of our shows on Sunday night."
What was the viewership?
“We exceeded over 11 million viewers with Thrones and had also, as you know, a huge night for Silicon Valley, a huge night for Veep and of course John Oliver and Beyoncé also had record numbers as well and the Beyoncé video, the break of ‘Lemonade’ just had an enormous cultural impact both on social media and on HBO, so it’s a great Sunday night for us and we are thrilled by it.”
The 11 million includes people watching on television as well as online?
“The vast preponderance of the viewing exactly was on HBO in the first two plays and there was about 10 percent on HBO Go.”
How are HBO Now and HBO Go doing right now? Are they growing as fast as you would like?
“Oh absolutely. The usage on HBO Go is up over 44 percent year to date, so as people become more familiar with the optionality of viewing on different platforms, convenience is something that everybody wants. People want to be able to watch what they want, where they want and how they want to watch it. HBO Go affords that opportunity for people and HBO Now, which is our standalone streaming service is off to a terrific start, allows people to watch, should they choose, with just an internet subscription. All we’re trying to do is provide the consumer with as many options as is technologically possible for them to get our great content.”
Do you see the future of HBO being solely digital and no longer on cable?
“No, not at all. In fact, the vast – look, what people really want is great curated content that presents a great value proposition, whether it’s our four Hollywood movie studios, the range of our sports programming, our documentary programming, John Oliver and Bill Maher, Vice and all the new dimensions that were added we haven’t even introduced yet, Bill Simmons, Vice News, Jon Stewart, all of which are coming to the network. It’s all about a great curated package of content, and the vast preponderance of our growth in the coming years is going to be within the ecosystem and there will also be growth outside the traditional ecosystem, but make no mistake, our cable partners and our satellite partners and our telco partners will be the engine for our growth in the coming years, and we’re delighted that we also have a streaming service for those people and remember, there are now about 12 and a half to 13 million homes in the United States that only have broadband and we made a decision three years ago we did not want that growing audience not to be able to access HBO if that’s the way they chose to access HBO. But, in all cases, remember you need broadband to get HBO into the home and our cable partners and telco partners have that broadband, so it’s I think a win-win for everybody. We’re simply presenting optionality to the consumer for them to be able to access our content however they want.”
On consumers that only pay for HBO rather than a full cable package
“Yes, but I think you really have to unpack that with a little more rigor. When you add the price of a broadband subscription and start laying on top of that different OTT [over-the-top] packaging, whether that be Netflix or Amazon or HBO Now, you get to a number ultimately which is actually close to some of the skinny bundles that the cable and satellite and telco partners are already offering. Look, we’ve grown more, and this is an interesting point because it’s the most competitive ecosystem in our history, but we have grown more in the last two years than in any two-year period in 30 years, and that tells you two things. It tells you, number one, that there’s a great demand for really good content and it also shows you that the ecosystem is hardly dead. The ecosystem is evolving, and cable, satellite and telco partners are thinking up different kinds of packaging. So for us, we just want to be available to all different kinds of distributors, however they decide to package us and bundle us to grow their business and to grow ours as well.”
Some have questioned why HBO would remained tied to cable companies.
“I don’t think it’s a question of being tied in a deleterious way. I think it’s a question of making sure that the consumers can get us however they want. There’s a lot of value in some of the skinnier bundles and there’s value, quite frankly, in a lot of digital packaging that they do where people perceive that they are getting an enormous amount for their money and for HBO, remember we’re a content company and what we want to do is we want to package in as many different ways as we possibly can with myriad partners and let the consumer decide how they want to access our product. We created HBO Now to create a new dimension of optionality, but that in no way interferes with our ability and our desire to grow our business with our current partners.”
Who’s your main competitor?
“The competitor, really, in many respects is time. There’s only so many hours in a day for leisure time, I think you have people watching on average about five hours of television a day. We don’t really need that because what we’re selling is a brand and what we’re looking to do inside that brand is to create a kind of addictive property for different parts of our consumer base, and different people are addicted to I think many different things. I think you saw, this weekend is a kind of textbook example of the range of things we could do. There were people who were waiting for the new Veep premiere with as much passion and intensity as people who were waiting for the new Thrones premier. What we’re trying to do is make sure that this brand continues to resonate in popular culture and people understand that when they come to HBO that they’re going to see something special. I think it’s interesting that when you look at Beyoncé’s choice to come to HBO to launch, in a way, the new album through this very interesting piece she did, the video piece she did on Lemonade. She could have chosen many different venues to do that and we’re delighted and very honored that she chose HBO as the place to launch her new art. So, I think our job is to make sure that we are constantly looking at the best storytellers in all different forms, and we are creating an environment for them where they want to come and do their best work, and if we continue to do that, and I’m proud to say that we have a terrific team, is always looking to find the next great original voice across all genres. We’re going to continue to really have our fair share of attention and acclaim in popular culture and we want to play our game. We know that there’s other people doing great work, that’s fine, there’s no zero sum game here. If we do what we do well, we are going to have and continue to have a real voice in defining the best of what defines the zeitgeist.”
What about Netflix?
“No, I don’t think of Netflix as our biggest competitor, Amazon or the networks, Showtime, I think about us doing our best work. If we do that and we play our game as we are capable of playing it, we’re going to have the best new talent, we’re going to continue to evolve new voices and everybody’s going to continue to talk about HBO, I think is doing differentiated and very high quality work. That’s what we think about and frankly, if you look at our growth not only in terms of our business and not only in terms of our global growth, remember this is a global company. We sell our product into 150 markets around the world, we have owned and operated networks in 60 countries around the world, and we have about 130 million subscribers worldwide so this is a global brand and we are working to grow our business all over the world, and we want to make sure that also, we are dealing with and working with the best writers, the best producers, the best talent and we are very privileged that there is always a huge line at our door of great storytellers that want to work here, and that’s the secret you know. We’re really built like an art gallery in a way. We’re a place where we want the best artists to come and show their work and we’re trying to create the best environment for them to do that and to help them market and promote it when they get here and we have a pretty good track record I think of doing that quite well.”
- Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO of HBO (Home Box Office, Inc.), part of Time Warner.
This segment aired on April 27, 2016.