Content is king, execution is queen

Friday, May 29th 2020


In the media business, there's an old familiar saying that goes "content is king."  What the saying doesn't mention is that even a king needs to execute well to stay in power.

Earlier this week, we saw one of the perennial kings of content, HBO, launch its third (yes, third) digital streaming platform, HBO Max.

Prior to its launch on Wednesday, we flagged that our biggest concern was around execution:

"For example, will consumers even be able to internalize the difference between HBO Max and HBO Now and HBO Go?  Will existing HBO subscribers be willing to upgrade, if they first have to cancel their existing subscriptions to do so?"

Based on initial launch metrics, it appears these concerns were well-founded.

On its first day of launch, only 87,000 people downloaded HBO Max's mobile app. That's hardly 2% of the 4 million app installs Disney+ was able to book on its launch day back in November.

Part of this difference is probably explainable by HBO Max's premium pricing, which clocks in at $15 per month vs. Disney+'s $7. 

However, we think the majority of the delta may be attributable to execution issues. For one, taking an approach that involves having three different, confusingly-named platforms, each only modestly differentiated from the other, puts you on the wrong foot to begin with.

This platform confusion only serves to muddle consumer comprehension of the value proposition, which is potentially even more disastrous. 

A poll conducted earlier this month showed that consumers had little understanding of what content HBO Max would offer, with under 15% of respondents (on average) aware of several major offerings available on the platform, such as Friends.

For comparison, over 90% of those same respondents were able to identify flagship programs available on other, non-HBO platforms, such as Disney+ and Netflix.

Finally, for a major platform launch HBO certainly didn't make it straightforward for users to sign up. 

Depending on their individual cable provider or streaming device, consumers could either be automatically signed up for HBO Max, not signed up at all, or blocked entirely from downloading the app. 

In particular, any of the 80 million households using Roku or Amazon Fire TV streamers wouldn't be able to download HBO Max at all.

While these issues are solvable and may just be a matter of time, we think this initial performance highlights the importance of execution, which often goes overlooked for crown jewel properties like HBO.

While destination-worthy content is core to any media business, even the best content isn't immune to the roadblocks clumsy execution can create.

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