With the July 16 premiere of Season 7 of "Game of Thrones" set to deliver some fresh buzz to HBO, the premium network is reportedly finalizing a deal for carriage on Hulu Live.
The New York Post reported what it described as “late-stage talks.” Hulu is owned by 21st Century Fox, Disney and NBCUniversal, and in 2016 HBO parent Time Warner became a minority stakeholder in the streaming service, acquiring 10% of it in 2016 for $583 million.
Making premium networks available in standalone form on various digital platforms has increasingly become a common strategy. HBO, Showtime and Starz are all striking deals with skinny bundle providers, gaming platforms and web giants like Amazon. HBO is already on DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue and Amazon Channels, and its own standalone app, HBO Now, is available on Roku, Apple TV and other platforms.
Pricing was not mentioned in the Post report. In other cases, there has been discounting—DirecTV Now ran a lengthy promotion offering HBO for $5 a month for certain subscription tiers. The HBO Now app is $14.99 a month.
As the bundle continues to fray, the race is on for owners of standalone OTT services to boost their subscriber tallies. CBS Corp. has pledged to reach 8 million subscribers combined for CBS All Access and Showtime by 2020. It has not yet reached the halfway mark, per the most recent numbers, meaning the pace of deals should only accelerate.
HBO Now, which launched more than two years ago, has accumulated about 2.4 million subscribers. During a February earnings call, executives noted an uptick in subscriber numbers. HBO’s CEO, Richard Plepler, also said the churn rate for HBO was the lowest it had been since launch, which he attributed to programming from "Westworld" to "The Night Of." Wider availability across platforms is a plus, he added. “The more opportunities we have to distribute HBO to a multitude of different distribution services … the better it is for our brand.”
In its early days, HBO Now was viewed as a vehicle for reaching young consumers (presumably those who forgot their parents’ cable log-in info). The thinking was that shows like "Vice News Tonight" and new entries from sports gadfly Bill Simmons and comedian Jon Stewart would be a particular draw. Since then, Simmons’ show was quickly yanked off the air and Stewart’s planned animated cable news satire was completely scuttled. The Vice relationship pays some image dividends for HBO—once again, parent Time Warner is a stakeholder in Vice—but the growth of HBO Now stems more from secular shifts in content distribution than from programming strategy.