HBO CEO thinks shared HBO GO passwords are a great promotion

Janko Roettgers
January 17, 2014

HBO CEO Richard Plepler knows that tons of people share accounts for the network’s HBO GO service — but he doesn’t think it’s a big threat. “It’s not that we are unmindful of it, but it has no real effect on the business,” Plepler said during a recent BuzzFeed event in New York.

He went even further, claiming that password sharing could have a positive effect on HBO’s bottom line down the road. Students who share their parents’ accounts are more likely to one day subscribe to HBO themselves, Plepler argued: “To us, it’s in many ways a terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers.”

Plepler acknowledged that the network isn’t taking an entirely hands-off approach to shared accounts, and instead is working in “different ways to affect password sharing.” He didn’t go into details, but HBO Go does limit the number of streams that can be accessed at the same time to three, and users have to periodically re-activate their devices.

There’s another aspect to this that Plepler didn’t mention: HBO could theoretically punish people for sharing their account passwords, but it can’t easily target those use others’ passwords in order to sell them their own accounts. That’s because HBO is only available as part of a pay TV bundle, and doesn’t make HBO Go available as a stand-alone offering. In other words: The network doesn’t have any direct commercial relationship with its viewers, as it leaves selling its services to operators. So by punishing password sharers, HBO is more likely to lose existing customers than to win new ones.

That’s a bit different from Netflix, another company that frequently encounters password sharing. Netflix has traditionally also had a hands-off approach towards that issue, but the company recently introduced a slightly more expensive family plan that allows users to stream to up to four device at once, as opposed to the two-stream cap usually in place for the service.

There hasn’t been any indication that Netflix has been cracking down on password sharing in conjunction with the new offer, but people who have attempted to stream to more than two devices simultaneously have reported that they were redirected to an offer to subscribe to the family tier.

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