HBO announced yesterday that it will offer online access to premiere episodes of its two newest shows, "Girls" and "Veep" to non-subscribers on HBO.com, YouTube, Dailymotion, TV.com, and via distributors' free VOD platforms. "Veep" will also be offered as a free download on iTunes. Access will begin the day after the shows launch on HBO and run for a month. The initiative is savvy on a number of different levels, and continues to show how HBO is tapping new online video opportunities while cautiously adhering to its traditional distribution model.
First and foremost, online access exposes tens of millions of non-subscribers to HBO's quality programming, which potentially gains the network new paying subscribers, which in turn will make its distributors happy (especially because being a pay-TV subscriber is a prerequisite to being an HBO subscriber). Sampling has always been a key part of HBO and other premium networks' marketing mix. However, in the past, access was restricted to existing pay-TV subscribers only, and HBO was largely reliant on the pay-TV distributor's promotional efforts.
In this initiative, HBO is taking more direct control, promoting the initiative via its own Facebook (6.9 million Likes) and Twitter (330K+ followers) accounts. By distributing on highly-popular online outlets, HBO is also tapping into the massive social sharing that guarantees broader awareness and viewer feedback than prior pay-TV only sampling could provide. HBO will also get direct experience understanding which of these outlets is most effective.
We'll have to wait and see exactly how HBO executes the access, but I'm guessing it will require that viewers first submit their email address and possibly other profile information. As such HBO would build its database for subsequent promotions and research as well as gain better insight into who its viewers are.
All of this helps position HBO better should it decide to shift strategy and offer its programming via HBO GO direct to consumer without pay-TV operators' authenticating. I have speculated in the past that this is inevitable, although HBO's co-president Eric Kessler told me last fall, in the interview below, that the network has no plans to change its model.
With at least 75-80 million U.S. homes currently not subscribing to HBO, online offers an excellent path to increasing its penetration. The new sampling promotion demonstrates HBO's continued forward thinking with respect to online video.
Categories: Cable Networks