HBO Pivots In Singapore

21 March 2019


By Mike Savage

A new proposition. Sometimes the future of media is only a contract renewal away. HBO has swiftly rebooted its offering in Singapore with a cheaper and more accessible service, after two decades of exclusive pay-TV distribution with StarHub came to an end in January. 

The move has catapulted HBO into media’s new competitive landscape, a terrain shaped by increased consumer choice and waning pricing power for legacy media alongside endemic piracy where broadcasters must learn new skills to survive. 

It also puts HBO, one of pay-TV’s most powerful brands, in the same arena as SVOD’s global frontrunner, Netflix. Price, content and technology will determine who gets the spoils. While Netflix has established an online lead in the US, both contenders are nearer the starting line in less-developed ecosystems in Asia, competing alongside other global, regional and local hopefuls. 

The next step in the Lion City is persuading more Singaporeans to pay for HBO’s films and TV shows, through its own efforts as well with multiple partners. That includes going direct-to-consumer – a first for HBO in Asia – as well as expanding distribution with other platforms, tying up with Singtel, Singapore’s other pay-TV and telco major, in addition to StarHub. Soon after, HBO inked a deal with Toggle, the OTT platform run by Singapore’s free-to-air incumbent Mediacorp. “They’ve got big distribution, their app is widely distributed, they’ve got big-screen presence and they’ve got significant marketing presence,” says HBO Asia CEO, Jonathan Spink. Free-to-air partnerships in other markets should follow, helping raise HBO’s visibility as well as bringing the service within reach of more consumers.

HBO is also likely to test D2C in a few other Asian markets, although the focus for now will be evolving the partnership model. “In certain territories, there’s no doubt it will be available through the app store directly,” Spink says. “That will roll out and is rolling out but we are still principally working with partners and operators. That’s where we see the future of the business, but the flexibility does help counter the piracy argument.” 

Ongoing transformation. In the meantime, HBO Go should benefit from a more substantial content offering, having resolved longstanding obstacles around rights last year. In Singapore, HBO’s revamp also aligns with the local debut of Asian movie channel Red, while bringing on board Cinemax, which had not been bundled with HBO’s other channels on StarHub. At the same time, the broadcaster continues to step up investment in Asian content, which has bolstered its appeal, with around five to six series currently in production. 

This could become increasingly pivotal for HBO’s near-term growth in Asia. Over the medium term, much depends on new parent, AT&T, marshalling both additional content, initially from Warner Bros and Turner, as well as CRM know-how, especially in managing churn, to keep HBO’s seat at media’s top table.

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