HBO Max sets European launch dates

Flight Attendant

WarnerMedia has unveiled the launch dates for HBO Max’s first European launches.

The streaming platform will launch in Europe on 26 October with Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Spain and Andorra being the first six countries to have access to the service.

Next year HBO Max will become available in another 14 territories where the media group already has a streaming presence: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Additional territory launches are also planned for next year.

The offering will be showcased to Europe at a virtual launch event in October, where product and content offerings and price points will be revealed.

HBO Max will organise content around five branded hubs: Warner Bros., HBO, DC, Cartoon Network and Max Originals.

Christina Sulebakk

New experience

Speaking to TBI sibling DTVE ahead of the launch, HBO Europe general manager Christina Sulebakk said that HBO Max would offer a new experience to the company’s legacy streaming services in the Nordics, Spain and elsewhere.

“This is based on a completely new technology; we are moving to the US technology stack, which will be the global stack for HBO Max,” said Sulebakk, who added that the five hubs under the HBO Max umbrella brand would create an experience “very different from today, especially from a content discovery perspective”.

Sulebakk said it was “very important for us” that the service should have a distinct local feel in each market in which it is present, with a content line-up that is based on “curation rather than an algorithm”.

She said that the HBO Max offering in Europe would have the same look and feel as that rolled out elsewhere, but the content line-up would be very distinct, with the Turner Classic Movies and Adult Swim brands, which are present in Latin America, absent in Europe. Sulebakk said WarnerMedia had no plans to roll out an advertising-supported tier in Europe, as it has in the US.


Complex market

HBO Max’s content line-up will differ from market-to-market not only as part of a plan to cater to local preferences but because WarnerMedia has licensing agreements in place with third-party operators, removing the possibility of offering content that could otherwise help fuel the streamer’s subscriber acquisition efforts.

“Europe is quite complex,” said Sulebakk. “It is not Latin America where we can just launch everywhere on day one. We have strong existing partners in the market.”

Among those partners is Sky, the major pay TV provider in three of Europe’s biggest markets, and Orange’s OCS, a major presence in a fourth.

“We do have a very strong relationship with Sky in the UK, Germany and Italy and we value those partnerships,” said Sulebakk. She said there are “no short terms plans” for the launch of HBO in these markets.

Elsewhere, WarnerMedia is continuing to license rights to third-party players, most recently including Amedia in Russia, where HBO Max content will be part of the latter’s Amediateka streaming offering.

The Handmaid’s Tale

“We haven’t ruled out [launching HBO Max in] any markets, including Russia, but our roadmap is quite full,” said Sulebakk. She said that the company will not only look at the licensing landscape in each country, but a combination of factors before deciding when or whether to launch. She said the focus is on building “a roadmap that looks feasible” at this stage.

The first territories on that roadmap – the Nordic countries and Spain – are among the most competitive streaming environments in Europe. However, Sulebakk is confident that the replacement of HBO’s existing in-market streaming propositions by HBO Max will enable WarnerMedia to compete effectively with its US peers and strong local players such as Viasat.

“We are launching a completely new service and consumers are going to see that,” she said, pointing to the addition of the Warner Bros. catalogue in particular as a gamechanger.

“We are getting the DC catalogue and the Warner Bros. catalogue. We are producing local originals and we want to invest in more dramas and unscripted content too,” she said.

In addition to WarnerMedia’s content and the development of new originals, HBO Max will also tap into the proven appeal of third-party acquisitions such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Vikings and Billions.

The streamer also aims to produce around 12 scripted and the same number of unscripted shows for each of its markets, with a focus on content with a fairly broad appeal.

The Sopranos

Aggressive pricing strategy

Pricing will also be a key element in HBO Max’s competitive strategy in all markets. “We are also bringing a competitive price point,” said Sulebakk, adding that HBO Max will “cater to multiple audiences”.

“We are going to have an aggressive pricing strategy because we want to make the product available among different socio-demographic groups and it is important to bring an attractive price point to market,” she said.

“We do think that these markets are not fully penetrated yet, and we always embrace competition.”

The company is also seeking new distribution channels for the service, with partnerships and direct-to-home seen as complementary.

HBO Europe works with multiple partners in the Nordic market including Telenor, while in Spain, HBO España has a close distribution partnership with Vodafone that Sulebakk says will be carried over to the new service. “We cater both to wholesale and direct-to-consumer,” she said. “We will assess whether we want to have one or multiple partners – we believe in the partnership model.”

HBO Max will also benefit from a more complete Android and iOS experience that should boost its direct-to-home proposition. “We believe the consumer should be able to get the product both on mobile and broadband. We have not had that full iOS and Android experience before, and that is new,” she said.

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