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We're in a golden age of television in part because everyone is producing high-quality shows. For every Deadwood, there's a Justified; True Detective, a Mindhunter. HBO has never been the best place for comedy series and, good as Crashing was, it remains an also-ran there as well.

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.






> 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.

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".


How many of those HBO titles are more than 5 years old? Because, comparing 45 years of programming to 5 is completely missing the point.

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.


> How many of those HBO titles are more than 5 years old? Because, comparing 45 years of programming to 5 is completely missing the point.

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.


I don't think that last argument is true. Yes, Netflix has a shotgun approach to picking content. But Netflix has core prestige series that hold their own against HBO, and HBO has middling series that go nowhere; the only difference is that Netflix has more stuff.

HBO was mostly showing Movies aka 3rd party content. Their original content was largely differentiation so people had a reason to pay for HBO over Stars becase they both had movies but only HBO had the Sopranos.

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.


> HBO titles are more than 5 years old?

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.

> In the end streaming needs new content to keep people paying every month.

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.


It matters both to compare models and for consistency going forward. Continuing a hit series is a lower risk in the short term, but you need constant pipeline as shows eventually die off.

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.


That's not a great metric. Here's a much better one: Metacritic will give you an aggregate score for every TV show made during a year, and also does a year-end Pazz-and-Jopp-style roundup of critic top 10 lists; here's 2018's:

https://www.metacritic.com/feature/critics-pick-the-top-10-b...

(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.


> and also does a year-end Pazz-and-Jopp-style roundup of critic top 10 lists; here's 2018's:

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.


No, that's critics selecting shows for year-end best lists.

If you're looking for what consumers enjoy, look at the ratings, where HBO also does not fare especially well.


It boils down to preferences. I personally feel the quality of HBO’s shows & series is dramatically higher than even the peak quality of Netflix or Prime original offerings. They are simply nowhere close. They’re not even playing the same sport.

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.


> True Detective, a Mindhunter.

"Mindhunter" was great but it's no "True Detective" IMO.


Mindhunter was basically the Netflix algorithms saying "True Detective is popular, let's do that!"

No, it was David Fincher wanting to do a crime series. Netflix orders a lot of crappy algorithm based content but a lot of their content is created through purchasing other people's ideas/concepts.

Mindhunter's first (and only) season is much better than True Detective 2 and arguably better than True Detective 3.

I like the idea that Netflix needed an algorithm to discover that people like true crime detective stories.


I noticed something similar. HBO seems to have a "premium" brand mostly because it led the pack with their content before streaming, but that was a while ago. Given that I'm 41 years old, I remember the early shows that set HBO apart. But I'm not sure this holds for the 20 year olds and younger right now.

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.


>and after that, I'd be curious if cancellations start to happen.

100% going to happen in the worst way and they know it.


The young people like Westworld. They may have duds, but their good exclusives are just that, good and exclusive.

So long as they have one above and beyond show every time they will be fine.


As a young person who likes Westworld, this is a great strategy for like 1 month a year. What are they going to do for the 15-ish months of downtime they have between seasons?

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".


> HBO seems to think it's the next "Netflix"

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.


Westworld's ratings are far south of even True Blood's. It's a good show. But it's not in many people's top tier.

Eh what? Westworld is rated 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8/10 on IMDB. True Blood is rated 69% and 7.9/10 on the same platforms, respectively.

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.


Ratings, as in, how many people watch the show. Obviously, Westworld is a better show than True Blood. But HBO needs people to want to watch it. On the metric that matters, True Blood was a more important show for HBO, and Westworld did not make up for it.

Ah, I see what you're saying.

> More importantly than what Netflix itself creates is the fact that everyone else is creating great TV, and Netflix can just license 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.


Netflix and Amazon Prime represent most of the best TV drama series of the last 10 years, and what isn't on those services is available a la carte from Apple and Amazon.

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 is going away.

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.)


If HBO can keep GoT going indefinitely at this level of audience engagement, it'll do fine. But Netflix and Amazon aren't dependent on a single tentpole show the way HBO is, which is part of HBO's vulnerability. I think AT&T's take on HBO is dead on.

> Netflix and Amazon Prime represent most of the best TV drama series of the last 10 years

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...)


The shows you're listing there are, excepting True Detective and Boardwalk Empire (which is a second-tier show!), generally available on Netflix and Amazon. They cost Netflix and Amazon to run, sure. But HBO can't run them at any price.

This post is completely subjective. It seems obvious that numerous people disagree on your assessment of quality. GoT "not especially good"? HBo doesn't have good comedy? Ever seen an episode of Curb?

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.


My argument doesn't really depend on where you put Game of Thrones. It's clear to everyone that GoT is HBO's tentpole series; it's critically important to their service. It's not my argument that it's not valuable IP; it's the most valuable IP in television.

Your entire premise is based upon your perceived quality of HBO's programming.

No, it's not. My argument isn't "The Americans is better than GoT†". My argument is that critics (through reviews) and consumers (through ratings) no longer set HBO's shows apart into a prestige category that HBO dominates. That's an empirically verifiable fact.

It is, though.


>My argument is that critics (through reviews) and consumers (through ratings) no longer set HBO's shows apart into a prestige category that HBO dominates. That's an empirically verifiable fact.

Based on... ?


Viewer ratings and sites like Metacritic? This isn't hard.

>HBO has never been the best place for comedy series and, good as Crashing was, it remains an also-ran there as well.

That might be true in terms of popularity, but in terms of critical success Veep & Curb Your Enthusiasm were pretty dominant.


Critical success doesn't pay the bills (though it may be more indicative of value in the back catalog than first-round popularity is.)

Here's the funny thing about content being "great" - it's a matter of opinion. I (personally) wouldn't put the Americans in my top 10 shows, or maybe even top 20, and at least 5 of those are from HBO. As opposed to Breaking Bad, which would be in my top 3 along with The Wire and something else which changes depending on the week and my mood.

Agreed the GoT is a lot of fun but not particularly "great" in the same way as others of these...


> HBO has never been the best place for comedy series

Hey now! The Larry Sanders Show begs to differ.

... also Mr. Show.


This is the same HBO that let Mr. Show die, refused to pick up Mr. Show 2.0 when Bob and Dave pitched it, and let them wind up at (checks notes) Netflix?



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