HBO Now Could Include Turner Content

Plepler Says More Deals With Distributors by Year-End

Time Warner executives didn’t give too much insight into the recently launched Home Box Office standalone product HBO Now, but told analysts that the product could be beefed up in the future with additional content from its Turner Broadcasting Networks.

On a conference call with analysts to discuss first quarter results, HBO CEO Richard Plepler said he was pleased with the HBO Now launch, adding that the product “got out of the gate very fast,” but offered no hard numbers. HBO Now debuted on April 7 on Apple TV and through Cablevision Systems. Time Warner is talking with other potential distributors about carrying the standalone channel and Plepler said more deals are expected.

“We are having very productive conversations with our traditional partners,” Plepler said on the conference call. “I suspect by the end of the year we will have more deals with them for HBO Now as well.”

HBO Now is initially being targeted to broadband only customers, which Time Warner estimates includes about 10 million homes. But the company said it also is eyeing the pay TV customers that don’t subscribe to the premium channel as potential customers.

That has caused some to speculate that HBO Now could eventually include other channels in the Turner stable, a possibility that the company said is being considered.

“There is no barrier to expanding what that content could be,” Plepler said. “We have an open mind about that our cousins at Warner Bros. and Turner could certainly be a part of that. We’re very flexible about what could evolve as the content for HBO Now.”

Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said Time Warner also is open to offering content to a possible future over-the-top offering from Apple, which he said he believes will eventually happen. Aside from the HBO Now-Apple TV relationship, Bewkes added that its CNN network is available on the Apple Watch and its CNN Go app is on Apple TV.

“There is a lot of energy and innovation around VOD that is getting supercharged by the capacity of Internet-delivered and broadband-delivered, to really bring good interfaces to consumers’ homes. If you have great channels and no weak channels, which I think is the position of Time Warner, all of these developments are something we welcome and we think is going to be good for traditional distributors too, to reinvigorate their packages and their marketing of channel packages that consumers want.”

Bewkes has been a proponent of skinny bundles, pared down channel packages that offer consumers fewer channels at lower prices. But he declined to comment on one of the newest skinny bundles to emerge – Verizon FiOS TV’s Custom TV package.

ESPN sued Verizon in state Supreme Court in New York earlier this week over Custom TV, stating the package violates its existing carriage agreement.

Bewkes wouldn’t comment on Turner’s agreements with Verizon, but added the concept of skinny packaging is long overdue.

“We feel very good about our contracts and how they protect our networks, but more important than that we feel good about the strength and concentration and reach of our networks,” Bewkes said. “…To the extent that distributors are able to create packages that are more attractive to consumers, given the networks we have, we think that is great for both consumers and for our networks.”