Cord-cutters haven’t embraced the HBO Now streaming service like the network and corporate parent Time Warner had hoped
HBO Now hasn’t been quite the hit that the premium cable network and Time Warner hoped it would be. According to the New York Post‘s Claire Atkinson, the streaming service hasn’t drawn in a large percentage of potential subscribers who no longer have cable or satellite service. Of the estimated 15 million homes that no longer subscribe to cable or satellite, HBO Now has attracted slightly more than 1 million.
Even more of a concern is that HBO Now’s subscriber base isn’t growing as the company had hoped. As Atkinson notes, HBO said it was nearing 1 million subscribers back in March. Nearly a year ago, as of Dec. 31, the service had 800,000 subscribers.
So what exactly is the problem? People love HBO, and the network has some buzzy new shows with Westworld, Insecure and High Maintenance. (Does anyone enjoy Divorce? That feels more like a 30-minute ordeal each week, despite a very good cast. Plus, it’s on after Westworld, when most of us are trying to process what we just watched.)
Topical programs like Vice News Tonight, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher provide relatively immediate cultural commentary that’s always worth watching, especially during the recent election season. Additionally, HBO has added more kids-friendly material like Sesame Street to tap into a different audience demo and daytime viewership. (Should we mention Ballers? It feels like we should mention Ballers.)
HBO Now is also widely available, part of the Apple TV, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Amazon Prime services. It’s not a difficult product to find or subscribe to. But there is considerable competition nowadays from outlets like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, along with HBO’s regular cable rivals like Showtime, Starz and Epix.
But according to Atkinson’s sources, the industry is ready to blame millennials, who haven’t yet embraced the service. HBO signed Jon Stewart and Bill Simmons in hopes of attracting that younger audience. But Stewart’s animated news program (only available online) hasn’t debuted and had no sort of presence during the election cycle. And Simmons’ sports talk show Any Given Wednesday was an embarrassing failure that never found its identity nor an audience, getting canceled in early November.
However, maybe the problem is simpler than that. Maybe people aren’t signing up for HBO Now because they don’t have to. How many potential subscribers were already using passwords for HBO’s on demand service HBO GO to watch shows like Game of Thrones, Girls and Veep? (Again, should we mention Ballers?) Why would those sharing access with friends or family to HBO content that can be watched on streaming and mobile devices sign up for a separate service that costs $14.99 a month? Because they feel guilty about enjoying HBO without paying for it?
Approximately 18 months ago, HBO insisted that the numbers of people sharing passwords wasn’t large enough to draw concern. But what if that number is cutting into the growth that Time Warner currently wishes it could tout for HBO Now? Potential subscribers who could yield other subscribers aren’t happening under those circumstances. Maybe industry insiders need to blame Mom and Dad instead.