As HBO embraces the future of TV, its ethos remains the same: content is king

Where content reigns.
Where content reigns.
Image: HBO/Helen Sloan
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HBO is the belle of the TV ball, and a rapidly changing TV landscape hasn’t changed that. If anything, it has only inflated it.

Any day now, HBO Now will launch, allowing audiences to watch Game of ThronesThe Jinx, True Detective, and The Leftovers online without a cable subscription. As hype builds for the streaming-only service, much of the focus has been on the way people consume TV—the technology and delivery systems. But HBO CEO Richard Plepler told CNBC March 31 that for HBO, content is still king.

“At the end of the day, this is all about the content,” he said. “You need to produce the best content, superior content, premium content, things that people want to watch.”

For almost every question posed to him, Plepler circled back around to programming. How will HBO market HBO Now to the 10 million cord-cutters in the US? By having great content that people—millennials especially—want to watch. Why would cable companies want to bundle HBO Now with their internet packages, potentially undercutting their cable business? Because HBO Now will have, as Plepler puts it, “an extraordinary panoply of programming.”

“Nobody’s doing us any favors selling HBO,” Plepler said. “They’re selling HBO because it’s a great product.”

Hyperbole aside, Plepler isn’t wrong about HBO having quality shows. It’s part of the reason that HBO has over 30 million subscribers in the US, more than any other pay TV channel (though about 10 million less than Netflix), and why Netflix’s head of content, Ted Sarandos, said in 2013: “The goal is to become HBO before HBO can become us.”

HBO has outsourced both the technology and the distribution for HBO Now, making it abundantly clear that the company is, first and foremost, focused on being a provider of premium content. And indeed, making quality content has been HBO’s modus operandi since The Sopranos first aired in 1999. Last year, HBO CEO Richard Plepler recounted how director Steven Soderbergh once told him that HBO “stands for good shit.”

“That’s what HBO is all about,” Plepler agreed. “You do good shit.”

Of course the traditional TV ecosystem needs to adapt to a world in which millions of people now get their content over the web and eschew cable TV completely. But none of that has changed HBO’s commitment to making quality television. In fact, the company is doubling down on that ethos. “Good shit” is now, more than ever, what HBO’s top brass believe separates it from its competitors.