AT&T CFO: HBO Now Viewership Up 40% During Pandemic

AT&T’s singular streaming video focus is on the recent subscription video-on-demand launch of HBO Max. Yet, the telecom’s existing SVOD service, HBO Now, which launched in 2015, saw a 40% uptick in viewership during early days of the coronavirus pandemic, CFO John Stephens said June 17 during an investor event.

Speaking remotely at the Credit Suisse Virtual Conference, Stephens said consumer response to Max, which launched less than three weeks ago, remains promising, adding he expects AT&T to announce subscriber data on the earnings call in July.

AT&T CFO John Stephens

AT&T’s WarnerMedia segment, which operates HBO, recently announced that HBO Now would be called HBO going forward. This, despite the fact Now subs who access the platform through HBONow.com, Google or Apple TV automatically have access to Max at no extra charge. Now subs who access via Roku, Amazon Prime Channels or third-party ISP, however, must download the Max app and re-register.

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Separately, HBO Go, which offers HBO pay-TV subs on-demand access to programming, is being phased out with subs given the option to migrate to Max.

“Quite frankly, on the HBO Max side, we’ve been pleased with where we’re at,” Stephens said. “But it’s been three weeks or not quite three weeks. And so from that perspective, we’re — it’s early. We’re — well, I’m very about positive it, but it’s early.”

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The CFO’s measured support for Max underscores corporate’s sometimes confusing messaging surrounding HBO’s streaming assets. Stephens hinted that was one of the reasons AT&T hired former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar to run WarnerMedia, which includes Warner Bros., Hulu and Turner.

“[Kilar’s] very experienced in over-the-top products and launching, and … he’s very helpful to what was a very strong team already,” Stephens said. “We feel very good about that. And we’re optimistic. We just remain optimistic. It’s a multiyear process. But so far, so good.”

Stephens says AT&T is sticking to previous guidance projecting 50 million Max subs by 2025.

“We’re going to give it some more time and make sure we do full measure,” he said. “But yes, we saw increased [Max] engagement. The engagement really improved in HBO Now.”

HBO Downsizes Apps, Increases Confusion

As expected, WarnerMedia is consolidating its HBO Go, HBO Now and HBO Max apps in an attempt to declutter the brand’s over-the-top video offerings to consumers. In the process, however, the corporate umbrella to Warner Bros., HBO and Turner has seemingly complicated matters.

With the high-profile HBO Max spearheading WarnerMedia’s OTT aspirations, the former Time Warner conglomerate June 12 announced it is phasing out HBO Go (on July 31), the OTT on-demand platform for HBO pay-TV subscribers. WarnerMedia will meld Go users into Max at no extra charge.

HBO Now, the 5-year-old standalone SVOD service ($14.99), will simply be called HBO. This, despite the fact Now subs who access the platform through HBONow.com, Google or Apple TV will be automatically switched to Max at no extra charge.

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And HBO Now subs who access via Roku, Amazon Prime Channels or third-party ISP must download the Max app and re-register. Go users who access HBO via Prime Channels are out of luck unless they download the Max app separately.

Max, which has generated upwards of 1.8 million app downloads, is also available via AT&T TV, Hulu, YouTube TV, Comcast, Charter/Spectrum, Altice (Optimum and SuddenLink), Verizon, Cox Communications and NCTC (WOW, Atlantic Broadband, RCN, Grande Communications & Wave and MCTV). Due to negotiation issues, Max is not available via Roku or Amazon Fire TV — while HBO Go is. But Max is available via the Android and iOS app, Samsung TV, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Google Chromecast.

HBO Max Two-Week Download Count: 1.8 Million Apps

WarnerMedia’s high-profile subscription streaming video platform HBO Max is slowly gaining traction commensurate with its hype. The $14.99 service, which launched May 27, generated from 1.6 million to 1.8 million app downloads through June 9, according to separate data from SensorTower and Apptopia, respectively. That compared with 900,000 Now downloads through April. Both apps are free to download.

Max generated 334,000 app downloads in its first 24 hours, leading to some speculation the platform wasn’t resonating. Indeed, as the last major SVOD platform to launch, Max joined a saturated market driven by Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

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Max has been installed by approximately 121,000 first-time U.S. users per day. That is 572% more than Now’s daily average of about 18,000 installs in the 14 days leading up to Max’s launch. SensorTower said Max’s app downloads represented a 591% increase from the 246,000 first-time installs the Now app saw in the 14 days leading up to Max’s launch.

While Max may be marketed as HBO on steroids, WarnerMedia also offers identically-priced HBO Now and HBO Go — the latter a VOD platform for HBO pay-TV customers. Both Now subs and Go users get free access to Max. Still the combination can be confusing to first-time consumers.

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“We had to figure out this weird way that HBO was now HBO Max, and then we had to download it and find our way in that,” Ross Clugston, executive creative director at marketing agency Superunion, told AdWeek. “I think that’s the story here: the story of HBO fragmenting this brand.”

Indeed, WarnerMedia is spending heavily to market Max as much more than HBO. The platform is targeting families with children, in addition to fans of nostalgic television shows such as “Friends,” “South Park,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Game of Thrones,” among others.

A “Friends” reunion special remains on tap once filming can resume in the COVID-19 era.  Max just renewed a second season of original series “Love Life,” starring Anna Kendrick. It also pulled Oscar-winning classic Gone With the Wind from catalog movies due the racial depiction of Southern plantations during and after the Civil War.

“Consumers don’t do well with confusion,” said Dan Rayburn, analyst at Frost & Sullivan and EVP of StreamingMedia.com. “Consumers pick services that are easy to use and they can understand.”

HBO Go Available as Standalone Service in Indonesia

WarnerMedia Entertainment Feb. 12 announced that its HBO Go service is now available in Indonesia as a standalone streaming service. The app is accessible on HBOGoAsia.com and can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play Store for IDR60,000 ($4) a with a seven-day free trial.

The HBO Go app, which launched in Indonesia in 2019 continues to be an on-demand platform for HBO via pay-TV operators Telkomsel’s Maxstream, First Media and IndiHome. It was a pre-cursor to HBO Now (and pending HBO Max) in the United States.

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“Thanks to our local distribution partners, the app has already got off to a flying start in Indonesia,” said Clement Schwebig, managing director of WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks, Southeast Asia, Pacific and China, which operates HBO in Asia. “Through HBO Go, viewers can watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies and series — as well as Asian content — anytime, anywhere.”

A number of HBO Asia Originals have been filmed in Indonesia, with local cast and crews. For example, award-winning Joko Anwar directed both “Halfworlds” and “Folklore”; Reza Rahadian and Arifin Putra star in “Halfworlds”; Adinia Wirasti appears in both “Halfworlds” and “Grisse”; and Alexandra Gottardo has roles in “Grisse” and “Food Lore.”

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HBO Go allows subscribers unlimited access to stream thousands of hours of non-stop and uncut entertainment from the latest first-run Hollywood movies and exclusive original content from HBO, HBO Asia and Cinemax, to Asian movies, series and all-time favorite kids’ programs over multiple connected devices.

Within the app, the live TV function can stream six of WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks’ channels: HBO, HBO Signature, HBO Hits, HBO Family, Cinemax and Red By HBO. Each HBO Go account can be viewed on two concurrent streams across five registered devices and the service has Airplay and Chromecast functionality.

In Asia, HBO Go is also available in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, and will be launching in more territories with additional partners soon.

 

AT&T Outlines How It Will Jumpstart HBO Max Subscriptions

In the rush to validate expensive forays into proprietary over-the-top video distribution, media/tech giants such as Disney and Apple have partnered with third-party vendors and/or leaned on subsidiaries to boost subscriber retention.

HBO is no different.

During AT&T’s Jan. 29 fiscal call, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, who is also president and COO of the telecom parent, disclosed details how company plans to support the May debut of HBO Max — the SVOD platform company executives contend is better than the competition, including Netflix.

Indeed, AT&T said it bypassed $1.2 billion in fourth-quarter ($2.8 billion in annual) revenue forgoing third-party licensing of Warner Bros. Television properties “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory,” among other shows, in advance of the Max launch.

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AT&T is going to give Max free to existing HBO subs through DirecTV and AT&T U-verse — or about 10 million consumers. The number is significant, since that’s the tally Disney said it generated in the first 24 hours after launching Disney+, assisted in part by a promotion with Verizon affording the telecom’s data subs with a free year of service.

Apple, which reportedly already has more than 33 million Apple TV+ subs, is giving a free year of service with any new purchase of an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple Watch.

Meanwhile, the eight million HBO Now subs (currently paying the identical $14.99 Max fee) will be automatically eligible for a Max upgrade without cost provided they do not access the OTT service through third-party platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Channels, Google Chromecast or Hulu, among other devices.

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AT&T will also incentivize its “highest ARPU” wireless subscribers with promotional Max offerings, in addition to foot traffic at any of the telecom’s 5,500 branded retail locations in the U.S.

“It’s a great opportunity to improve our overall churn [subscriber retention], which we’ve seen happen from giving HBO to current unlimited [wireless] customers,” Stankey said.

“With Max, we’ll offer consumers more than twice the amount of programming for the same price as HBO today,” he added.

Stankey said going forward HBO’s 34 million domestic linear subscribers should expect to see more generalized entertainment content, including unscripted reality shows, news and sports.

“It’s an important dance and choreography [with linear TV distributors] that we have to do to get right,” he said. “And we feel we’re positioned very well to make that happen.”

 

WarnerMedia Assumes Full Control of HBO Brand in Latin America

Ahead of its HBO Max unveiling on Oct. 29, WarnerMedia has reached an agreement to buy Ole Communications’ minority stake in HBO Ole Partners, the joint venture between WarnerMedia and Ole Communications.

When the transaction closes, WarnerMedia will own 100% of all HBO, Cinemax and HBO Go services in Spanish-speaking Latin America and the Caribbean.

The agreement does not include HBO Brasil Partners, another joint venture between the companies that operates HBO in Brazil. WarnerMedia and Ole Communications will continue their basic channel distribution business in Latin America.

Subscription streaming video platform HBO Max is slated to launch in the first quarter of 2020.

The transaction is expected to be completed following the granting of relevant regulatory approvals. Upon completion, HBO Ole Partners will fall under the purview of Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer, WarnerMedia, and president, WarnerMedia International Networks.

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“The [HBO Ole Partners] acquisition will allow us to bring localized versions of our upcoming U.S. streaming service to consumers in Spanish speaking Latin America and the Caribbean,” Zeiler said in a statement.

Th executive said WarnerMedia chose not to include Brazil operations in the deal due to “existing regulatory uncertainty” in the country.

“We support and remain optimistic about the ongoing efforts to amend the SeAC law to ensure the media industry has a clear and predictable regulatory framework that fosters investment and innovation,” Zeiler said.

WarnerMedia and Ole Communications brought HBO programming services to the region for the first time when they founded the HBO Ole Partners joint venture in 1991 and launched a Spanish-language HBO-branded premium channel that same year. In 1994, a Portuguese-language service was launched in Brazil.

Penultimate ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode Sets Series Viewership Record

The next-to-last “Game of Thrones” episode, titled “The Bells,” was watched May 12 by a record 18.4 million viewers across HBO’s linear, TV Everywhere (HBO Go) and SVOD platform HBO Now, exceeding the previous series high of 17.8 million viewers for the April 28 episode, “The Long Night,” focusing on the Battle of Winterfell.

The 9 p.m. airing reached a time-period high with an average of 12.5 million viewers, surpassing the season seven finale of 12.1 million viewers. The final season eight is averaging 43 million viewers per episode in gross audience, an increase of more than 10 million viewers compared to season seven.

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‘Game of Thrones’ Final Season Premiere Tops Largest Streaming Night for HBO Now

The April 14 premiere of the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” generated record viewership for HBO, including standalone subscription streaming service HBO Now. The premiere accounted for largest night of streaming activity ever for HBO Now.

The previous streaming record was set in 2014 by the season one finale of “True Detective,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, which temporarily crashed TV Everywhere app, HBO Go.

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WarnerMedia said a record 17.4 million people watched the episode across all distribution formats, including pay-TV. The tally exceeded by more than 1 million the previous series high of 16.9 million viewers for the season seven finale.

HBO Now saw a jump of about 50% in viewing when compared to last season’s finale and nearly doubled (97%) when compared to the seventh-season premiere.

The 9 p.m. airing was viewed by 11.8 million viewers, surpassing the season seven premiere of 10.1 million viewers and slightly behind the season seven finale of 12.1 million viewers.

“Game of Thrones” season seven went on to average 32.8 million viewers per episode.

HBO Go[es] Where HBO Now Can’t

HBO Go, the premium channel’s venerable TV Everywhere app, enables (often indifferent) subscribers in the United States on-demand access to current and catalog programs – including Hollywood movies – across myriad devices.

But three years ago, citing cord-cutting, sluggish TV Everywhere adoption industrywide, and eager to join the over-the-top video bandwagon, HBO launched HBO Now enabling domestic-only consumers without a pay-TV subscription access to all programing for a $15 monthly fee.

HBO Go, in the meantime, has prospered abroad – as a standalone SVOD service.

The app just launched in Poland, one of 17 countries HBO affords SVOD access to programing, including original content. The HBO channel is also available – like in the U.S. – through third-party pay-TV networks.

“The HBO service is already a great success across our territories within Europe. With this further expansion, we are making it even easier for series and film lovers to become HBO subscribers,” Hervé Payan, CEO HBO Europe, said in a statement.

HBO operates three regional OTT platforms in Europe, including HBO España, HBO Nordic (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland), and HBO Go in 12 Central Europe.

The services include original series, movies and documentaries, local productions, third-party content, in addition to Hollywood movies and children’s programing.

“We believe new subscribers will be very satisfied with our unique offerings. We will also continue to increase our investment in local programming across all territories in Europe,” Payan said.