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HBO Now Is ... Just Okay, With 800,000 Subscribers


Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The Internet demanded it for years, and last year HBO finally gave it to them. But so far, only 800,000 people have subscribed to HBO Now, the pay TV channel’s Web-based service.

HBO boss Richard Plepler disclosed the subscriber numbers during parent company Time Warner’s earnings call this morning.

Plepler also argued that 800,000 isn’t bad for a service that went live on Apple TV last spring and wasn’t available on other platforms until last summer.

“I wouldn’t say only 800,000 subs,” Plepler said in a response to an analyst who had used the word “only” in his question. “We’re just getting started. … I think we’re going to make a lot of progress.”

For instance, Plepler said, this year his network will have new content from talent like Jon Stewart and Bill Simmons. That stuff will also be available on conventional HBO, but HBO is likely going to market it as though it is specific to its digital service. The company also plans on making a bigger marketing push for HBO Now, he said.

Up until now, HBO and Time Warner have kept the HBO Now numbers — and projections — close to the vest. My hunch is that they would have been very happy to announce something closer to two million.

Last year, Time Warner added a total 2.7 million HBO and Cinemax subscribers in the U.S. — a number that includes the HBO Now numbers.

HBO would like help selling HBO Now from conventional pay TV distributors like Comcast*, which already bundle conventional HBO to their customers. But so far the company has faced lots of resistance from the pay TV business, which sees the digital product as a cord-cutting tool, despite Plepler’s insistence that it isn’t so.

* Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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