HBO Chief Richard Plepler Talks Streaming Service, Competition With Netflix

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HBO's Richard Plepler

Bill Simmons "is looking at HBO Now as another option for doing short-form programming," Plepler said Tuesday at a Laguna Beach event.

HBO launched its over-the-top service six months ago, but CEO Richard Plepler said there's more to come from the product. 

The advent of HBO Now has given the cable net an expanded capacity for offering new and different content to its audiences, and HBO plans to take advantage of it with original programming for the $15 a month service. 

Plepler pointed to HBO's upcoming daily news series with Vice as something that HBO Now has enabled. "It was really birthed because of the flexibility of HBO Now," he said during a Tuesday evening talk at WSJDLIVE in Laguna Beach. "We don't have to schedule it in the same constrained ways on linear." 

He said that a number of people have already approached HBO about producing shows for the streaming platform. Among them is new HBO employee Bill Simmons, who Plepler noted "is looking at HBO Now as another option for doing short-form programming." He added that creators will come to HBO Now to experiment with programming that might not fit on a broadcast or cable network. "The best ideas are going to come from the people we work with," he said. 

He also addressed plans to distribute the over-the-top service to more than just technology partners. HBO has reached agreements with Cablevision and Verizon to bring HBO Now to their customers, but not with cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable. "I don't think it's a threat to their business," he said of bundling HBO Now with their broadband offerings. "Let's just talk about Comcast and Charter-TWC, for a minute. They have millions and millions of broadband-only customers. We're saying a very simple thing to them. Why wouldn't you take a product like HBO that helps preserve broadband and think about upselling to a skinny bundle? In what way can you make the argument that that's not good for your business?"

Plepler remained quiet about the early performance of HBO Now, which launched in April aimed at potential viewers who don't already subscribe to HBO through a cable package. "When we look at the potential growth of our company, we're just as happy to grow our business direct-to-consumer," he noted. 

Plepler also believes that the media's portrayal of HBO's competition with Netflix is overblown. "Ninety-nine percent of HBO Now subscribers are Netflix subscribers," he said, adding that HBO "has grown more in the last two years than any time in our history" despite competition from the growing number of TV buyers. 

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