Buzz Grows as HBO Nordic Transitions to Max Oct. 26

HBO Nordic was one of the first forays by an American media company to compete against Netflix on the global stage. The subscription streaming video platform had sought to beat Netflix to the Scandinavian market, but followed up the SVOD pioneer, launching in 2014.

Since then, Netflix has dominated the market — no small task considering the Nordics represent the world’s highest penetration of SVOD services. On Oct. 26, HBO Nordic transitions to HBO Max as part of WarnerMedia’s global rollout of the branded SVOD/AVOD platform.

Max is expanding to six European countries (the Nordics being four of them), with an 14 additional territories added in 2022.

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Consumer interest in Max is substantial, with a majority of households that plan to purchase service, already having at least one other video streaming service, according to Mediavision. The research firm contends Max will drive service stacking rather than overall household penetration — similar to how Disney+ entered the region a year ago. Since then, Disney+ has managed to add over 1.6 million Nordic households in less than one year.

The buzz is welcomed considering HBO Nordic has been losing subscribers since reaching 1.9 million households in early 2020. That tally declined by 145,000 homes during the pandemic as housebound consumers sought alternative streaming services. Netflix ended 2020 with more than 4 million Scandinavian subs.

The SVOD market overall has added about 3 million new subs since spring 2020, according to Mediavision.

In a note, the research firm believes Max’s lower subscription price (8.90 Euro), compared to (10.95 Euro) for HBO Nordic. At launch, current HBO Nordic will be able to get Max for an annual fee of 69.99 Euro, or 5.83 Euro monthly. Only Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video are less expensive.

In addition, Max will allow three simultaneous streams compared to two for HBO Nordic. Netflix’s top tier (four simultaneous streams) costs 15.99 Euro.

The launch of Max will bring a whole new set of localized series and movies to the service, including the Swedish comedy drama “Lust,” staring Sofia Helin and Anja Lundqvist.

Max also promises improvements to technical aspects of the service, including user experience and the possibility to create individual profiles, as well as usage of the service on an unlimited number of devices. This is a lot more user friendly than HBO Nordic.

“HBO is pulling a ‘Disney’ on the Nordic market,” Mediavision wrote in a note. “Launching a high-end, fiction-oriented, technically advanced service at a significantly lower price. With a history of great performance in the Nordic market, and a high consumer interest, things are looking very exciting for HBO.”

‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ Drive HBO Nordic Sub Growth

Scandinavia (especially Sweden) has long been a hotbed for subscription streaming video. HBO launched its first over-the-top video service — HBO Nordic — long before the domestic rollout of HBO Now in 2014.

HBO Nordic remains a formidable competitor to Netflix and other local SVOD services notably this year thanks to “Game of Thrones” and “Big Little Lies,” among other programming.

New data from Mediavision contends the final season of “Thrones” and second season of “Lies” jumpstarted HBO Nordic subscriber growth to more than 200,000 members in Sweden in the second quarter (ended June 30) — up 50% from the previous-year period.

By comparison, market leader Netflix grew 14% year-over-year.

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Mediavision believes the sub growth can also be attributed to new seasons of “Big Little Lies,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” — the latter available in the U.S. exclusively on Hulu. HBO’s original (created by Comcast-owned Sky) miniseries — “Chernobyl” — also received a strong reception from both Swedish audiences and critics.

As is the trend globally among OTT and traditional media distributors, original content is driving subscriber interest. But it’s not just global services that are increasing their content investments.

In Sweden, both C More and Viaplay have launched new drama series, in addition to extending existing episodic programming. Viaplay’s owner NENT has announced that it intends to launch six new original series in 2019.

Netflix, of course, has taken original content one step further. Its Swedish original series, “Greatest of all,” is produced for Netflix by the Swedish production company FLX — a strategy the SVOD pioneer is emulating in markets worldwide.

“We are moving towards a period where the value of many and strong titles is likely to increase further,” Marie Nilsson, CEO of Mediavision, said in a statement. “The hunt for new customers is also learning to intensify, as major players such as Disney and Apple are ready to enter Sweden, too. This will help drive the streaming market further.”