HBO Chairman Reiterates Stabilizing Subscriber Trends

Bill Nelson also reports "well over 2 million" downloads of the HBO Go app and comments on competition from Netflix and others, saying HBO's competitive position and outlook are "much better" than people realize.

NEW YORK - HBO chairman and CEO Bill Nelson reiterated in front of a Wall Street crowd Thursday that subscriber momentum at the premium TV company has been "stabilizing" and that HBO's competitive position and growth prospects are "much better" than many people realize.

After a decline in mostly non-paying U.S. subscribers last year due to the end of promotions, user momentum has stabilized, he said, echoing similar comments from HBO owner Time Warner.

Nelson also highlighted that the fee deals HBO has with TV distributors have built-in increases - unlike some deals struck by competitors Showtime and Starz, which have been growing their subscriber numbers. As a result, even amid flat subscriber trends, HBO should continue its financial growth, while peers may give up financial upside, he said.

Speaking here at the Nomura U.S. Media Summit, he also said that HBO has seen "well over 2 million" downloads of its HBO Go app. It had crossed the 1 million mark in its first week.

Nelson was also asked by Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson about how he views the competition from Netflix. Nelson emphasized that HBO also competes with all other TV networks and online video providers. "HBO is no stranger to competition," he said.

Nelson also argued that HBO and Netflix are different services, with the former focusing on originals and the latter more on library product. "It is not a zero-sum game," Nelson concluded. After all, HBO over-indexes in Netflix homes as avid video consumers want a broad range of video services, he said.

Overall, Nelson said HBO feels very comfortable in its competitive skin.

Asked if HBO would sell its content to Netflix, Nelson said though that would be akin to licensing HBO's original show Game of Thrones to Showtime and Boardwalk Empire to Starz. "Clearly, the HBO brand promise is exclusive, high-quality original programming," he said. "So, we are not going to dilute [that promise] by licensing to a competitor...We don't think that's prudent for us to do."

Nelson also said that HBO will not to sell all of its original series to cable networks for reruns given that some shows haven't done well in that forum. For example, True Blood will not get cable reruns amid sluggish interest from potential deal partners, he said.

Why is HBO Go not available in Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems homes in HBO's home market of New York? Nelson said HBO is in negotiations with TW Cable and is "optimistic" that they will conclude in the next couple of weeks. But Cablevision are running behind, he added.

Twitter: @georgszalai


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