HBO has led the way in making some of the highest quality television of the last 20 years. Competition has gotten stiffer, but I still view HBO as the premier place for TV (Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, Curb, Veep, Leftovers, True Detective, Deadwood... and of course GoT, the list goes on and on). I would argue many of our favorite broadcast/cable shows would simply not exist if HBO hadn't gone there first.
They've had some duds, and certainly have a lot of small-audience niche TV, but for the most part it's a premium quality that I'm willing to pay for.
I'm reading through the lines a bit and here is what I see in the article:
"More content, faster, cheaper."
This isn't about an outdated streaming strategy, HBO Go/Now are fine.
If they race to compete with Netflix (dropping price, increasing output), who is quite literally shitting out content every day, the overall quality of HBO will decline greatly. Netflix started with premiere TV (House of Cards) but has evolved into a massive mess of content, rarely of which any really captures my attention anymore.
Unfortunately, as the money machine needs to be fed, I 100% see HBO slowly turning into a content factory, and quality is going to fall off.
I hope in 3-5 years to come back to this comment and laugh at how wrong I was, but I feel pretty certain about an upcoming quality drop from what was once the bellwether of high quality entertainment.
I would argue that Netflix has and does do this except for a different definition of superior. They aren't really trying to make a single show with broad market appeal. An algorithm isn't going to help with that anyway. What an algorithm can do is find niches to serve. Netflix has done a good job of creating these smaller shows that have an intense appeal to a small number of people. Gather enough of those shows together and eventually you have everyone covered. It is basically just targeted advertising except with TV shows.
HBO might have GOT that everyone watches, but Netflix has Black Mirror, BoJack Horseman, GLOW, You, The Crown, Russian Doll, Narcos, Maniac, Ozark, One Day At A Time, Big Mouth, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and numerous other shows that have received critical acclaim and everyone probably watches at least one of those.
For example, Netflix show "Ozark" is pretty good! But I can pretty much guarantee it wouldn't have existed if AMC hadn't taken a gamble on "Breaking Bad" first.
One of the potential flaws in Netflix’s strategy is whether they will have to keep investing heavily in content in line with price increases.
The other, which I would not say is a flaw, but merely going to opposite direction by only producing a few, high quality shows is a differentiated offering from Netflix.
But if your licensed content is mostly drek, you have to create filler content yourself, even if it's mostly just OK.
One of the most significant and under-acknowledged strategic differences between Netflix and a traditional TV network is that they're not limited by a schedule— they don't need to pick just one show to put in that key Sunday night primetime slot, and they don't need to look at what they're "up against" in the same slot on the other networks. Their only practical limit is budget— ergo, a strategy of lots of niche, long-tail appeal type content makes a ton of sense.
(By "drek," I was mostly thinking of old second-tier and third-tier sitcoms and the like. I'm actually a bit surprised there isn't more of this sort of content; perhaps it's the tension between having lots of content and basically burying your tier-1 content with a bunch of mostly "crap.")
HBO's quality has been pretty far off its peak for awhile. GoT is a tentpole show with a rabid audience but it's not especially good (it's no The Wire). Deadwood and the Sopranos are from a different era of TV. Veep is great, but True Detective, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Enlightened, and The Newsroom would all be in the middle of the pack at Netflix.
More importantly than what Netflix itself creates is the fact that everyone else is creating great TV, and Netflix can just license it. The Americans is better than anything HBO ever produced except The Wire, and it's an FX show. So are Atlanta and Better Things, both better than any HBO comedy series other than Veep. AMC has Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, which arguably are the best thing ever done on TV.
The Deuce is great, but if I have to choose between paying for one show of that caliber per month, or just getting access to stuff like Counterpart, Legion, Get Shorty, Halt and Catch Fire, and Fargo, it's pretty obvious where I'm getting my money's worth.
Which is the big dilemma with HBO's previous strategy. There is too much content that clears the bar HBO set available outside of HBO for them to charge a premium, unless they can keep bottling lightning like they did with GoT, which is not at all a sure bet.
As The Dude once said "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man"
Objectively speaking, there isn't a single Netflix-original TV show rated over 9 on IMDB: https://www.justwatch.com/us/provider/netflix/tv-shows?ratin...
Compared to 7 titles on HBO: https://www.justwatch.com/us/provider/hbo-now/tv-shows?ratin...
But I think your point is that when we're talking about "The Wire" level production, others have caught up (AMC, FX, etc) and Netflix can simply license those titles. But, there's notable downsides to that (you have to wait, there's a significant cost to purchase, etc). Also, AMC, FX, etc have yet to establish a long-term credibility for consistently creating high quality content...until they do, HBO as the "premium offering" in light of others is still there.
At the end of the day we're talking about whether HBO's content can sustain the justification of paying $15/month. You just need rabid audiences for that to happen, not "one dude on the internet thinks The Wire is greatest thing ever created".
GoT was low hanging fruit with great source material. Recently HBO’s actual original content has been lacking. Their library is enough to get people to sign up and binge watch old content, but they need to pay for a lot of 3rd party content and or high volume production like Netflix to keep people paying 15$ a month.
In the end streaming needs new content to keep people paying every month. And the economics of that are going to be brutal.
No, having 45 years of exclusive back catalog is a real and concrete competitive advantage.
> GoT was low hanging fruit with great source material.
I'm not sure I agree; I mean, I get why it seems like they in retrospect, but the history of genre fiction jumping from print to film (whether big screen or small) is littered with dozens of corpses of failures of conversions of “great source material” for every even modest success.
> Their library is enough to get people to sign up and binge watch old content, but they need to pay for a lot of 3rd party content and or high volume production like Netflix to keep people paying 15$ a month.
I pay for both HBO Now and Netflix, and I pay of HBO Now largely because it has fairly consistent if low volume high quality new original exclusive content, unlike Netflix's high-volume firehose of stuff I have no interest in that occasionally produces something of value, which even with their supposedly personalized recommendations is still hard to find and identify among the sea of mediocrity.
> In the end streaming needs new content to keep people paying every month.
So did premium TV. HBO is more focussed on providing very high quality to a more focussed audience while Netflix is running a scattershot content approach; the latter probably has less value per customer but can perhaps support a larger customer base; or it's a consciously unsustainable model that only lasts until they figure out what their target audience really is.
EDIT: however, AT&T seems to want to try something closer to the Netflix strategy with HBO, which I think is likely to be a disaster, but possibly one that gets recognized in time to turn around.
In that context having a small number of very high quality shows works well. But, exclusive high quality moves are really expensive.
Over the next 45 years AT&T does not want to produce a lot of content, they simply can’t stay competitive without a lot of new content.
5 years since their first season or since they discontinued content? If the former, why does that matter? 4 of those 7 are still all actively creating content/seasons...
> GoT was low hanging fruit with great source material. Recently HBO’s actual original content has been lacking.
So because GoT came from a book, it's not "truly original"? The Wire is arguably sourced from Simon's "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" and several books/dissertations on crime in inner cities. Not sure what your real point is there....regardless of whether it's "truly original" (whatever that means) doesn't matter as long as people show up to pay.
Again, 4 of those 7 shows have new content. You don't necessarily need a variety of content to do so. In fact, I would argue Netflix dilutes it's original content by having too much of it. Paradox of choice and all...
I think the scarier thing is HBO has no clear "anchor" going forward. Sopranos, The Wire, and GoT have all been that, but GoT is on its way out.
In terms of GoT they need to pay a 3rd party money reducing profits and their is a limited amount of such content which they need to compete for. They also paid for the the True Blood novels and created less compelling content.
This both hurts their bottom line and creates real risk if they can’t find any affordable content to base their next series off of.
PS: The other issue with long running content is anyone who does not like the series will write off HBO for the next 5+ years when it’s running unless they have other high quality content.
(You can edit the URL to go back to 2015).
The actual critic roundups tell as much a story of FX's dominance of prestige TV as HBO's. And if you want a popular opinion instead, the ratings have a much bleaker story about HBO.
While I think Netflix does just fine as an original producer lined up against HBO, it's not a central part of my argument that they're better than HBO. My core argument is that HBO doesn't host enough prestige series for it to command a premium over all the other series available across other platforms.
A ranking based on how many paid-for critics are talking about a TV show? Huh? That's like saying "this startup is better than another because they've gotten more press on TechCrunch/Wired/WSJ/etc". IMDB is imperfect, but it's a better proxy for what consumers enjoy.
If you're looking for what consumers enjoy, look at the ratings, where HBO also does not fare especially well.
Pretty much every Netflix darling I’ve spent time to watch (Stranger Things, House of Cards, Russian Doll, Maniac, Bird Box, Roma) has been a huge disappointment.
By comparison with HBO, I only feel that way about True Detective Season 2 and Crashing (the Pete Holmes show). Other shows have variation of course and some are more interesting or less to me, but none of them have been sincerely big disappointments, while nearly every single darling that Netflix puts out is pretty crap.
"Mindhunter" was great but it's no "True Detective" IMO.
I like the idea that Netflix needed an algorithm to discover that people like true crime detective stories.
It sure seems like HBO executives think they're a cut above, though: https://static1.businessinsider.com/att-ceo-compares-hbo-to-...
I'm just not sure they can justify their "premium" status with their price point. GoT's final season is nearly here, and after that, I'd be curious if cancellations start to happen.
100% going to happen in the worst way and they know it.
So long as they have one above and beyond show every time they will be fine.
Right now they have a limited selection of high quality shows, just enough to keep people hooked for the next great one. If they switch to just pumping out lower-quality, higher-quantity stuff, I suspect people will just cancel -- everyone already has Netflix for that.
HBO seems to think it's the next "Netflix", but if they follow the strategy they've described so far, I suspect they'll be the next "CBS All Access".
AT&T seems to think HBO can be HBO and also be Netflix; they're wrong, but it's not inevitable they’ll break the being HBO part irrecoverably before they realize that.
Which ratings are you looking at?
EDIT: I also checked Metacritic. True Blood is rated 68 on average across seven seasons, meanwhile Westworld is rated 75 on average across two seasons. If you take the Metacritic rating peak of Westworld (Season 1) and the Metacritic rating peak of True Blood (Season 3), True Blood is only four points ahead.
Given the difference between the Metacritic score and the Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB scores, I'd be inclined to chalk it up to different audiences. But even on the preferential platform Westworld basically at parity with True Blood, not "far south" of it.
The whole reason Netflix started creating its own original content was because they can't license good stuff from elsewhere anymore. It's too expensive.
That play worked reasonably well when everyone else thought of streaming as a tiny niche market, since that meant they were willing to sell streaming licenses to their content for peanuts. But those days are over; everyone understands that streaming is Prime Time now, and they'd rather not have Netflix sitting between them and their main audience.
I know the article sets up the conflict this way, but the point really isn't that Netflix is an unstoppable juggernaut, so much as that what Netflix represents is. Maybe Amazon will figure things out and it'll come to dominate TV, or maybe Netflix will, but either way: HBO hosts only a small fraction of the prestige shows, in an era where there are too many to watch anyways.
The rap on HBO has been, if you look at the ratings, they have GoT, and used to have True Blood, and before that The Sopranos, and that's what's kept people paying. GoT is going away. Content of the same quality is much more available now than when GoT started running. Why are people going to pay a premium for HBO?
GoT has, at the last count I saw, four successor series under development at HBO (down from a peak of five, and likely but not certain to get down to only the best actually getting full-scale production), with one already, unless I missed a schedule change, already filming, with the showrunners of GoT and GRRM all involved in all four.
> Content of the same quality is much more available now than when GoT started running.
I don't think that's actually true. It think content of GoT quality is available from almost exactly the same number of sources, in almost exactly the same number of titles, as when GoT first aired, and that's even more true if you consider value to people who would pay $15/mo just for GoT (and even if it wasn't, most of the people who would can afford to pay the same amount more than once if they have another source of equal-quality content available.)
I guess this comes down to personal preference, so it's possible to argue that, but I would absolutely disagree. A look at the list of Emmy Award winners for Best Original Drama (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primetime_Emmy_Award_for_Outst...) surfaces many titles that show that cable and broadcast networks haven't been sitting still this decade: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter, Downton Abbey, True Detective, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, The Americans, The Good Wife, Mr. Robot, Better Call Saul, This Is Us, etc.
You can argue that the list of Emmy winners has been slanted until very recently by bias against streaming providers. And I wouldn't disagree with that! But my point in citing Emmy winners isn't to say that those awards are an infallible guide to what's good and what isn't; it's just to say that there's been plenty of good programming coming out of cable networks over the last 10 years.
> Maybe Amazon will figure things out and it'll come to dominate TV, or maybe Netflix will
Netflix has already given up on the idea of dominating TV. Their shift to original programming means they're not trying to be your one source for everything anymore, they just want to be a source with enough good programming to convince people they're worth subscribing to. Which, as a business model, is kind of like... HBO.
Netflix's Ted Sarandos has even said this explicitly: "The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us." (https://www.gq.com/story/netflix-founder-reed-hastings-house...)
You then go on to base your conclusion on your subjective view of the quality of their shows. If anything, I'm inclined to believe the opposite of what you say given how many people would disagree with the basis of your argument.
† It is, though.
Based on... ?
That might be true in terms of popularity, but in terms of critical success Veep & Curb Your Enthusiasm were pretty dominant.
Agreed the GoT is a lot of fun but not particularly "great" in the same way as others of these...
Hey now! The Larry Sanders Show begs to differ.
... also Mr. Show.
Frankly I think going after Netflix in general is a dumb move. They own that mass market content space, you're never going to displace them, Hulu already tried and failed miserably, give up. Why not amass a series of these premium brands (eg Showtime) and focus on becoming the place for awesome smart content to augment Netflix?
I see this less as a business problem and more of a technology problem with regards to their streaming platform. All big platforms suffer (possibly painfully) in the beginning (e.g. Twitter's fail whale), but that's when it's up to business leadership to stay the course, dive into the problem, and commit to solving it on your own. Look at how much emphasis in this article is placed upon HBO getting away from rivals running their platform! Yet a short period ago they surrender in-house operations to MLB AM? Constant pivoting gets you nowhere.
I see AT&T swooping in to "pick up the pieces" as they see it, and the sad conclusion I foresee is exactly what you described.
I think this really gets to the difference between the two. With Netflix I am provided a barrage of content suited to my interest at a quality that is distractingly mediocre. With HBO I constantly find myself running out of content that I think suits my taste, but when I try something out of my wheelhouse I often find the production well executed and the subject surprisingly engaging.
This has been my experience for anything that isn't live. I can never successfully watch a "live" episode of Vice without the stream degrading to potato quality at various times. But within minutes of the episode completing I can view that same content without any issue.
I can only speculate as to what their problems might be. But their live streaming experience is quite poor.
HBO is the rare gem in today's entertainment world that still produces high quality content, where you can rely on it to be good when it's coming from them.
I hope they don't join the race and stay on their own path.
Not really, they are lousy apps.
You can fix that without engaging in the "spew content and see waht sticks" style of netflix.
But a lot of media consumers won't mind or even be aware that they're becoming more of a commodity than the content itself. I kinda do.
The bigger sin is not mentioning Larry Sanders. That was a cultural milestone during its time in the same way Sopranos and Sex and City Were. Curbed feels like its spiritual successor.
And of course the one that started it all for HBO in the early 90s, the one that broke the mold for an adult sitcom, from the creators of Friends - Dream On.
There isn't an argument quite like this outside of maybe NBC's 90s sitcoms, arguing about Seinfeld/Friends/Frasier or AMC's late-aughts Mad Men/Breaking Bad/Walking Dead.
Like... Big Bang, the number one network sitcom which averages 18.5 million viewers?
Laugh tracks are strongly maligned yet people still love the shows that use them.
In some regards, I would even say their UX is better than Netflix's -- scrolling through a list of items in the HBO apps doesn't trigger a parade of loud auto-playing videos, and HBO doesn't visually privilege their own original content over stuff they've licensed by giving it huge icons and putting it at the top of every list.
The article mentions that HBO couldn't handle the streaming demand for Game of Thrones in 2014, which is pretty bad, but which was also five years ago. It doesn't mention them having problems like that anymore, so it seems reasonable to assume they learned something from the experience.
If anything, I would say HBO's biggest failure is in marketing/branding: naming their offering for cable subscribers "HBO GO" and the one for cord-cutters "HBO NOW" is an invitation for confusion, and the logos/icons for the apps are so similar anyone could be forgiven for downloading the wrong one. They need to distinguish these services better, and provide some incentive to use HBO Now to attract people like me who are getting HBO through their cable company to jump to having a direct relationship with them instead.
HBO is still lacking certain basic features; their dearth of different watcher profiles is appalling, especially when Netfix has had it for years. It's personally a pet peeve of mine when I share an account, the other person watches something I was in the middle of, and I lose my place. Basic UX shit like this is inexcusable.
I wonder if they've unified HBO GO/NOW. I remember reading when NOW launched that it and GO were separate Java applications maintained by separate teams.
I'll add that Netflix is the only video app I've used that mismanages the chromecast control ui. Basically every other time I cast Netflix the app loses track of the cast stream, reverts to the browsing ui or other failure mode and I can't pause the stream from my phone. No other app does this.
"Decisions are made slowly and by consensus; longtime employees guard the network’s lucrative, award-winning status quo." -- this is said like it is a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with not being "disruptive" and being slow and steady to stay excellent.
Many businesses and consumers would be better off if there were less pressure to be #1.
Same argument as the "dictatorship of the majority" in democratic government. Everybody doing what is most popular results in many people losing.
It just depends on the goals you set for the test.
Reporters have particular sectors, companies, etc. they're assigned to cover; these are referred to as their beat. To get stories, a journalist has to develop sources within those sectors/companies/etc. -- people "in the know" who are willing to share information with them. Developing sources is a hard thing to do, as people tend not to talk to reporters unless they've got an axe to grind, which biases their information and makes it less useful to you.
One way to get potential sources to open up to you is to butter them up in advance with some flattering coverage. Once you're fixed in their memory as the guy/gal who wrote that great story about them, they're less likely to see you as an adversary.
So it's not uncommon, when a new executive takes over somewhere, to see a glowing profile of them appear -- a profile that "explains" how all the problems the place the executive just took over at are the fault of their departed predecessor, who was an idiot whose momma dressed him funny, and how the new executive's bold, daring Vision for the Future™ will solve them all at a stroke.
I have no hard evidence whether that's the actual thought process that led to this puzzling article, of course. It just really, really reads that way.
 See https://www.thenation.com/article/washingtons-beat-sweetener..., https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2009/04/a-beat-sweetener...
When our contract is up, we are going to try YouTube TV and Hulu to see if either of those is better.
Not to mention that several of those services have certain shows blacked out on their DVR service, and some even convert your recorded shows into on-demand versions which (or course) contain unskippable commercials.
When I cut the cord last summer it was extremely sobering realizing that all the fancy new internet tv services were so far behind my already long in the tooth Tivo.
Is there a higher paid tier that gets rid of those commercials?
There are a lot of on-demand channels, but you can't skip the ads in them so I'm not going to watch them. Is DirecTV now better with respect to ads?
But at least if you have ATT phone service, you’ll be able to watch it for free.
In any case, after two thorough, time-consuming attempts I gave up and mooched of a friend who had recently bought a Roku or something.
You need a web browser.
(By contrast, Netflix shows are not available on iTunes. I had to wait a year for Stranger Things to come out on BluRay...)
No need for a extra device of any sort.
HBO Now's web player (on my Macbook Pro, anyway) would not play in HD on an external monitor no matter what I did. HDPC is working. Every other service (including Netflix) worked fine. Only HBO reverted to SD video as soon as I moved my browser window to my 4K display, no matter what browser I used. I'm sure the problem is Silverlight. But it's ridiculous that they still use that piece of garbage.
If what they are giving HBO is anything like the “AT&T Watch TV” app, that’s a pretty accurate subheading. The user experience is a solid 5 years behind Netflix and Hulu.
Looks like the future will be HBO trading on the brand they built over the last few decades but content-wise attempting to match Netflix. I hope I'm wrong.