There are not a lot of television series that I make sure to watch as they air live anymore. “Appointment television” is largely from a bygone era, with some exceptions: Game of Thrones is one. Last night’s premiere of Sharp Objects is another. Silicon Valley and Veep. Barry. The Leftovers when it was on. The first season of Westworld. Big Little Lies.
One common denominator between all those shows is that they are on HBO. I spend as much money for a subscription to HBO as I do Netflix, and HBO provides far less content, so why would HBO want to spend more money to create more content in order to compete with Netflix?
Because they’re owned by AT&T now, and somebody over at the telecom provider believes that they can compete with a streaming network that spends billions and billions on content.
“We need hours a day,” Mr. Stankey [The AT&T Executive who now oversees HBO said in a recording obtained by the NYTimes. “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”
Continuing the theme, he added: “I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”
It’s not just that they want more subscriptions, either. Note that he said “alternative models of advertising,” which suggests that AT&T is going to use the commercial-free network to advertise to its subscribers, which certainly lessens the appeal of the network. Additionally, gobs more programming — diluting the prestige of the network — might also reduce the return on investment.
Look: We don’t need another Netflix. We have a Netflix. There’s more content on Netflix than any of us could possibly watch. The only reason to subscribe to HBO is because they have certain programs that we have to see, and the network can do that just as well with six must-see series as with 6 must-see series and a bunch of middling content. If you dilute the brand, it might just backfire.
I mean, look: There was an intense bidding war for Sharp Objects between HBO and Netflix. I don’t know what the decisive factor was, but I imagine that the fact that HBO could focus its attention on one show for weeks had to be helpful, whereas Netflix just shits out content and expects its audience to find it (a model that has worked, so far). But with Disney and Apple adding their own streaming networks, plus Amazon and Hulu, it’s going to be harder for viewers to find and surface great content amid all the competing networks. The great thing about HBO is that, if it’s on the network, we know it’s at least going to be worth a shot.
Under the direction of AT&T, that may no longer be the case.