Friday, 12 March 2010
HBO has many admirers in the UK because of the quality of its drama, but is usually dismissed as a model because of the much greater size of the US population.
Some facts: HBO gets about $10 a month from 29m US homes, mainly better-off ( median income $63,000 in 2007). Thus around a quarter of the US homes pay a premium for HBO on top of cable fees and basic packages. For this HBO provides about 140 hours of ad-free new content each year. (Subscribers do not just sign up for brilliant series like The Wire or Curb Your Enthusiasm but for films and boxing as well.) Its subscribers value HBO highly and feel a sense of ownership. (In our terms, HBO is a specialist, premium-subscription content provider, carried on nearly all US multichannel platforms.)
In the UK subscription basically means Sky or Virgin. Most Sky subscribers in the UK pay about £40 a month for various bundles -- so Sky as a platform is broadly in line with US cable systems like Comcast which includes HBO as an option. OK, so the UK is probably not large enough to fund a specialist service of high-end drama and comedy funded by subs from better-off homes like HBO. However, though the £12 per month License Fee paid by over 25m UK households has no equivalent in the US, it looks like very good value and delivers a wide range of material -- including some HBO-type fare like Outnumbered or The Thick of It. Does the UK offer the opportunity for new variants of the pay model -- perhaps big advertiser- supported channels going behind a "lite" pay wall? And may we one day find a way to tap the wishes of a minority who want more of what they value and are ready to pay for it, which is what drives HBO -- after all, innovation is so often led by enthusiasts or "early adopters"?