HBO CEO Richard Plepler's work is the stuff of high drama

Editor in Chief
Yahoo Finance

As CEO of HBO, Richard Plepler has to be on top of all his company’s production and relationships.

That means shepherding and tending to the likes of high-wire acts such as “Game of Thrones,” Larry David and Bill Maher. Then there’s staying on top of the competition, which long ago meant Showtime and Starz and now means everything from Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) and Hulu to the telco giants to Softbank. Never mind keeping up with the latest on Disney’s ever-changing moods and its potential courtship with Twenty-First Century Fox (FOX). And of course, there’s Plepler’s own parent company, Time Warner (TWX), and its seemingly imperiled merger with AT&T (T). Oh and by the way, Hollywood is being slammed with waves of revelations of sexually inappropriate behavior by male executives and stars—just the other day HBO cut ties with comedian Louis C.K. after he acknowledged he engaged in sexual misconduct.

It’s quite a bit to process.

HBO keeps on doing its own thing

And yet in a way, Plepler, who’s been CEO of HBO for five years, seems to be handling all these new pressures the way he always has. That means HBO—which some call the crown jewel of Time Warner—just keeps on doing its own thing.

“HBO has been thinking long and hard over the past decade about where we want to be,” Plepler says. “We think we’re very well-positioned for the next decade and beyond.”

Plepler says that when HBO decided to begin streaming its programming a few years ago, there were only 5 million broadband-only homes in the United States, whereas today there are 20 million.

“Our digital business is growing and we wanted to have the ability to reach those consumers,” he says. “We always argued—and I think the proof is in the pudding—that this was not going to cannibalize our traditional business. We’ve just expanded the pie and given consumers more and more options to get HBO. We are track for our biggest year in terms of revenue and subscriber growth in our history.”

Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer interviewing HBO Ceo Richard Plepler.
Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer interviewing HBO Ceo Richard Plepler.

Plepler says that growing broadband-only customers doesn’t alienate his traditional cable partners, since 1) broadband-only customers exist anyway, and 2) HBO can partner with cable companies to capture broadband-only customers, in skinny bundles for instance. “We think there’s growth in the hills everywhere,” he says.

‘There is no antitrust case against the merger’

I then asked Plepler if he thought the Time Warner/AT&T deal would go through.

“I think so,” he says. “There’s never been a case of a vertical merger [essentially a merger where the combined companies don’t compete anywhere] not going through. [Experts will tell you] there is no anti-trust case against the merger.”

If the deal does close, Plepler says it will be “an interesting opportunity,” saying [AT&T] “has an enormous amount of data with their mobile customers that would help us market our product and reach new subscribers.”

And what is HBOs content strategy?

“More isn’t better, only better is better,” he says. “Our brand is the curation of excellence in whatever category we are in; drama, documentaries, originals etc. We want to be outstanding. You can’t follow all the content that’s out there. There’s just too much of it. That means brands matter more than ever.”

The idea Plepler says is to come to HBO and find the best programming anywhere.

As for the reported combination of Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox, Plepler says he understands the rational, given that “Disney wants to get as much content as they can to turbo charge their streaming service.”

‘Zero-tolerance policy’

I also asked Plepler about the waves of reported sexual assault and abuse by men in the entertainment industry.

“It’s repugnant and unconscionable behavior,” he said. “We need to have a zero-tolerance policy. Here cultures are crucial. Everyone knows what’s tolerated and what isn’t. If there’s any silver lining it’s that a zero-tolerance policy is the only policy.”

Plepler and HBO seem to understand that drama—ironically or not—is an ever-present factor in the media business. Having a strategy that takes that into account may be serving them well.


Andy Serwer is Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief. Read more:

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