HBO CEO on Netflix’s $7B content spend: ‘More is not better, only better is better’

Jon Snow in seemingly hopeless straits in this Game of Thrones battle scene. Image: HBO
"Game of Thrones" (HBO)

HBO CEO Richard Plepler is defending his network’s smaller $2 billion content budget relative to other players like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu that are spending more.

Plepler told CNBC that HBO will continue to “spend what we need to spend” to keep up its reputation for prestige programming. He said HBO’s revenue growth is on track to be bigger than it’s ever been in the channel’s 45-year history, and that HBO will continue to invest that in content.

But he warned that a glut of content across multiple platforms is HBO’s long-term plan for fighting off its deep-spending SVOD rivals.

“There is a surfeit of content out there. Some of it’s very good. Some of it’s mediocre. Some of it’s not so good. And I think what our brand reflects, and what it has always reflected, is that when you come inside HBO you’re going to see something that stands for quality,” said Plepler. “Don’t get overwhelmed with more being the definition of excellence. More is not better, only better is better,” Plepler said, but he assured that HBO has more than enough resources to continue to compete for content.

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HBO is on track to spend $2 billion on content this year. It’s possible that number could rise in years to come—particularly as opulent drama “Game of Thrones” could cost as much as $15 million per episode in its final season. But the premium network is still far behind the eye-popping budgets set by Netflix, which is spending $7 billion on content this year, and Amazon, which is spending $4.5 billion.

Meanwhile, relatively new content players like Apple and Facebook are jumping into the fray with reported billion-dollar budgets of their own.

And while HBO has kept up its track record for competing during awards season—its series “Veep” won Emmy for best comedy for the third year in a row—the network is seeing streaming channels encroach more and more during statue season. This year, Hulu made history by being the first streaming service to claim the Emmy for best drama with its series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”