- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service is already available in 46 territories across the Americas and Europe, which is set to rise to 61 in March with launches in Portugal, the Netherlands and various countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which the company detailed on Tuesday. And later this year, the streamer plans to expand to a further six European markets, including Greece and Turkey.
Christina Sulebakk, general manager of HBO Max Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), highlighted that this whirlwind of planned rollouts will follow what she calls “very successful” debuts in Spain and in the Nordics in late October. “We are going to be launching a lot this year.”
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Sulebakk talked about the experience of HBO Max’s international debuts so far, balancing a global and local focus and how the streamer has been able to reach younger female audiences.
What does the launch of HBO Max in Central and Eastern Europe, Portugal and the Netherlands mean for your existing business in these markets?
Our Central European countries are currently running HBO Go and also our linear HBO channels. We continue to maintain all our linear businesses, which we have had for many, many years, and then we will replace HBO Go with HBO Max. The same goes for Portugal: HBO Portugal will become HBO Max. We also have an exclusive partnership there with Vodafone (that distributes the streaming service). We don’t have linear channels tied to it. So that would also complete our journey on our existing footprint in Europe.
And then at the same time, we are launching in the first new market, which is going to be Netherlands. We have had a presence there for years with (pay TV operator) Ziggo, previously we also had a joint venture constellation with them. But now we are launching our own service there with HBO Max in market for the first time. So we are really excited about that.
To what degree does your team treat HBO Max as a local and/or as a global service?
HBO Max is not a global brand that is just being globally run and implemented. It has so much local flavor in terms of talents, in terms of the way we operate the business, the way we program, what we acquire on the service and, of course, also in the way we curate and sell the product. It is a global strategy with a very, very heavy lean in on local resonance.
The curation, the local flavor is key. We have now had great success, both in the Nordics and in Spain. And it is no surprise that local regional programming, especially in Spain, has played an instrumental part in our success.
What is key to such tailoring of the streaming service to each market?
This is something that is very dear to us, and especially in Europe. For instance, on the HBO Max side here, we don’t have a headquarters, but we have people really in every single market where we operate, because we believe in the local knowledge of bringing everything together. We cannot customize the product globally and say that it will resonate in local markets. So really important for us about the curation is the local flavor, the local call to action and the pricing points.
What all upcoming markets do have in common again is that HBO Max will offer a broad-based lineup of content from WarnerMedia’s various brands. How important is that and are there any local differences to that “super service” approach?
It is interesting how we are approaching the different markets. Looking at Central Europe and Portugal, we launch with one standard product that really consists of everything we have on the continent catalog, but we are extending it even further. We are adding Warner Bros. movies just 45 days after their theatrical release, similar to what we did in the Nordics and Spain, and we are also bringing more content and volume onto the platform as we are launching. It is one product at a very affordable price.
When we previously had an HBO Europe presence in Holland, it was with the HBO catalog. This time around, similar to what we are doing in other markets, we are bringing, of course, the DC universe and the Warner Bros. universe, and we are also acquiring a lot of international and third-party content to add to the slate. We will be announcing the tiering, pricing and marketing strategy (soon), but again we will have a very attractive price point and a very strong slate.
Any particular positive or negative surprises you have had in rolling out HBO Max internationally so far?
What has positively surprised us is really the appetite for more content. There is so much content out there, right? But consumers are really tying in, and consumption is going up, not only with us, but also without the players and markets. So, it is really interesting to see that there is no limit and a huge appetite for great content. Great IP still drives high consumption. In the U.S., Latin America and Europe, we have been very positively surprised about the subscriber base really outperforming all our expectations in all the regions where we have been launching.
One thing that has been very interesting is how we have been able to also broaden the segmentation, working with more different audiences. That has been a strategy that has been very positive and successful. We have been able to tap into a younger audience and more female-skewing audience, especially younger females. The HBO Max slate like The Flight Attendant, Gossip Girl, And Just Like That and titles like Raised by Wolves, which really ties into a younger and a different demographic than we historically have been able to tie into, and DC naturally helps us on that journey. But it is really positive to see that this strategy around the content has paid off.
On the other side, consumers are demanding: they want more content, they want to consume more, they want refreshment rates up in the sky, they will not wait for the second season of And Just Like That. So we are focusing on producing local originals and getting more HBO Max originals on the slate, while still keeping a very high quality bar.
Any details you can share on HBO Max subscriber figures for Europe so far?
I cannot specifically drill into Europe and give you my magic number. But we added 8 million international subscribers last year, which is really important for us. We had a very successful launch in Latin America. We also launched in the Nordics and in Spain and have also been able to accelerate growth in our existing territories. So we are really, really pleased and are starting the year off at a really good pace.
And there are more new markets to come later in 2022…
We are talking about the March 8 launches now, but we are also adding Turkey, Greece, Iceland and the Baltics later this year. [WarnerMedia CEO] Jason [Kilar] and [AT&T CEO John] Stankey have said we want to be in 190 countries by the end of 2025. That is a lot of countries, the world is big. We are going to be launching a lot this year.
How key an opportunity is Turkey as a future market?
In Turkey, there is a huge appetite. I have never worked with Turkey before, and I’m really intrigued to get to know the market, because there is so much local production. But there is so much appetite for our brand there. So I have great hopes, and we are investing and will have a person on the ground to look into original programming in Turkey. We are going to be investing in Turkish productions. We are also doing the same in the Netherlands and Central Europe and other markets.
How do you decide on original and other localized content budgets for each market?
That is a really good question and something that is very important, because you could just split it up and say, “here is the budget, go and execute.” We are definitely looking at markets from a sizing perspective, but also from a perspective of where does local content really matter. If you look at Spain and the Nordics, we did invest more in Spain than we did in the Nordics, not only because of the size of it, but also because of the cultural differences – the Nordics being much more Anglo-Saxon, Spain being much more Spanish. And what we are doing from an investment point of view is we always look at local stories. We don’t want to produce stories wondering if they might be successful outside the country of origin. If it is a Spanish story, we need to tell it truly. We have all seen shows where you plug in actors from all around the world or locations from all around the world to make them successful in multiple territories. For us, it is about telling local stories with local voices that resonate in the country of origin. If it has the benefit of traveling across borders, we are extremely pleased about that. But it has to be, first and foremost, working in that market. In smaller markets, just take the great market that Iceland is, a hotspot for amazing voices, we also need to look at “can an Icelandic show resonate outside of Iceland?” and make our decisions about how much we are willing to invest. We want to be true to the format of our global voices.
Any word yet on whether HBO Max could eventually launch in Sky markets, such as the U.K., Germany, Italy where Sky is the home of HBO, and France, where you currently have a deal with Orange?
We have been working with licensing for years and have a very, very strong relationship with Sky and players in other markets. So that is something we really cherish because we want our stories out there. But we always evaluate market by market. We will always evaluate that as part of our strategy depending on timing, technology and resources and what feels right for the company.
What can you say about the engagement of HBO Max subscribers and how close an eye do you keep on that?
We are looking at that engagement level, because engagement is most important for retention and customer lifetime values. Our focus is really on engagement. And on how do you make sure that engagement rates are at the right level and that new content is floating in and subscribers are getting a refreshment rate that is satisfying with a broad segmentation of genres. How can we keep them engaged? We barely look at competitors in terms of that aspect – of course, data is very limited.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day