Digital Media

HBO Now slow to catch on with 'cord-cutters'

The premium channel's online-only offering has 800,000 subscribers, failing to meet the huge expectations for the new service.

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Daenerys Targaryen of "Game of Thrones" is plotting ways to get more people to join HBO Now.

HBO


People seem to love HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "Girls." But maybe not that much if they have to pay to watch them.

HBO Now, the premium channel's online-only subscription service, was expected to be a big hit with people who are cutting back on cable subscriptions, but adoption of the new service for now looks to be underwhelming. The channel's CEO mentioned on a call with analysts Wednesday that HBO Now has brought in about 800,000 subscribers so far, well below the lofty predictions for the service.

With Wall Street expectations as high as 2 million subscribers, HBO chief Richard Plepler was forced on the defensive.

"I wouldn't say only 800,000 HBO Now subs," he said on the call, responding an analyst's question about the lower-than-predicted number. "We're just getting started, I think we're going to make a lot of progress as we put new content on and get onto new platforms."

HBO Now launched in April amid expectations that more consumers are dropping or cutting back on their cable packages and instead cobbling together their daily video entertainment with online options like YouTube and Netflix. Hoping to entice these so-called cord-cutters and perhaps tamp down online piracy of its shows, HBO came out with the standalone service for $15 a month, the same price as with a cable subscription. The fact that HBO Now isn't growing as fast as expected could mean that major shift in consumer habits is moving slower than predicted, or perhaps HBO isn't as popular with cord-cutters as many thought.

Still, Plepler may have a point, since the service's roll out took time. HBO Now was available exclusively on Apple devices for its first three months of existence. It came to Google's Chromecast and Amazon Fire devices in August, then reached Roku's streaming devices in October. Plepler said HBO Now still needs to launch on Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox, which he said account for 20 percent of viewing on HBO Go, the channel's streaming service that's only available with a pay-TV subscription.

On top of that, he said HBO still hasn't launched a handful of new shows that should draw in more cord-cutters. Those shows include projects from Jon Stewart and Bill Simmons, as well as a daily news show from Vice. HBO also plans to market HBO Now more aggressively, which should also boost subscriptions.

"I think we've made a lot of progress," Plepler said, later adding, "We see an enormous opportunity ahead."