HBO NOW may have scored as one of last year’s top streaming apps in terms of revenue, but its subscriber count is falling short of analyst projections. Industry observers had expected the service, which allows consumers to stream HBO programming over the internet without a cable TV subscription, to reach 1 to 2 million subscribers. However, HBO CEO Richard Plepler confirmed that the over-the-top service has just 800,000 subscribers.
The CEO rejected the idea that this indicates a weak start for the 10-month-old service, however, saying that the company is “just getting started.”
He pointed out that HBO NOW still has room to grow, downplaying the less-than-stellar numbers. For example, he noted that the app had not yet launched on two major platforms, PlayStation and Xbox. Those two combined account for 20 percent of viewing on HBO GO, the company’s app for cable TV subscribers that lets them watch on other devices.
Plepler also added that the service had not yet launched some of its more anticipated content that could help drive subscriptions.
“We’ve not yet put out the content like Jon Stewart, Bill Simmons, Vice daily news show, that we think is particularly suited for those platforms,” Plepler said.
In addition to the fact that HBO NOW has not yet rolled out to all platforms, the service also began as an Apple exclusive, having been initially available only on Apple TV before arriving on other devices. Today, it’s accessible on the web, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, plus Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Android TV, Fire TV and Fire TV Stick – but its limited reach could have hampered early adoption.
Another issue that could be slowing subscriber growth is HBO NOW’s still heftier price tag, when compared with others in the streaming space – it charges $14.99 per month for its collection of movies, original programming, documentaries and more. Netflix, these days, charges $5 less for its standard plan – and that’s after a price increase.
For some potential HBO NOW subscribers, too, the big draw for joining the service may be access to the network’s hit show “Game of Thrones” which just wrapped Season 5 in June, and won’t kick off the new season until late April. Consumers may have decided to hold off on joining until then, or they could just be turning to other means to watch the programming. After all, “Game of Thrones” has broken records as the most-pirated TV show.
The network has also set its sights on better competing with the likes of Netflix in recent months by expanding into different types of programming that could make it appeal to a broader demographic. For instance, just last month it launched a new “kids” section in its app that includes newly acquired content from Sesame Workshop like “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company,” and “Pinky Dinky Doo.”
With the launch, it began touting its parental control features, too, in an effort to make the service seem like something that’s more family-friendly. But it could be hard for the brand to change how consumers perceive it after all these years of offering more adult-oriented fare.
As it stands, HBO NOW has far to go to truly rival the behemoth that is Netflix, which reported in January that it has grown to 75 million users worldwide. Hulu has over 9 million subscribers and Sling TV has 394,000 subscribers, analysts believe.
It’s worth noting that Sling also resells HBO, but it’s not “HBO NOW” as those subscribers can’t watch via HBO NOW app. That means some portion of Sling’s user base of cord cutters are watching HBO without a traditional cable TV subscription.