HBO on Wednesday revealed that HBO Now, the standalone streaming service designed specifically for cord cutters, has only around 800,000 subscribers. This is obviously well below the number of subscribers that HBO has for its bundled cable TV channel and also well below the number of total Netflix subscribers. In all, this is seen as a disappointing start for HBO Now, which was unveiled a year ago as a game changer that could help bring about the end of pricey cable bundles.
The question is, why is HBO Now struggling?
The New York Post speculates that “the somewhat slower-than-expected start could be the result of the timing of Games of Thrones seasonal run” since “Season 5 ended last June and Season 6 doesn’t begin until April 25.” This is certainly the case for me — I’m not subscribed to HBO Now at the moment but I certainly will sign up once Game of Thrones makes its return.
It’s also the case, I think, that Netflix just has a more compelling year-round lineup compared to HBO. Most of HBO’s top shows last year — Game of Thrones, Veep, Silicon Valley, and even True Detective despite its horrible second season — premiered in the spring or early summer. Netflix, meanwhile, had interesting original content all year, from House of Cards in the early winter to Daredevil and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in the spring to Orange is the New Black in the early summer to Jessica Jones and Master of None in the fall to Making a Murderer at the end of the year.
Would staggering the releases of its top shows a little more help HBO hook more cord cutters on a yearly basis? I’m honestly not sure, although it would be interesting to try.
It’s also the case that HBO Now was only available on Apple TV in its first three months of launching, which limited its potential market right at the time that its marquee shows premiered.
At any rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see HBO Now get a bigger boost in a couple of months when Game of Thrones and Veep come back, although there are also questions about just how much HBO parent company Time Warner will want to promote the service. Given that Time Warner has reportedly been trying to kill Hulu’s rights to stream shows the day after they air, it probably isn’t too enthusiastic about making a service that appeals to cord cutters into a big success.