HBO’s Predator drone strike deal to lock up subscription rights to Universal titles through 2022 seems pretty obviously a response to Disney’s landmark deal to turn over its own subscription rights to Netflix in the pay-TV window. Clearly, HBO didn’t want any of the studios it currently has pay-TV deals to get any similar ideas.
Though HBO was the pioneer among the pay-TV networks in emphasizing original series about 84 percent of viewing across HBO’s channels still involves theatrical movies. Losing proprietary access to major studio movies at this point could still cost HBO subscribers.
Ironically, it was the pay-TV networks’ growing emphasis on originals, at the expense of prime-time viewing slots for movies, that motivated Disney to take the plunge with Netflix in the first place. The more HBO, Showtime, and Starz in originals, the less they will be willing to spend to license movies.
Had HBO waited until its current deal with Universal was up, in 2016, it might well have ended up paying a lower price for the rights, assuming it continued to produce hit originals to fill up its schedule. The longer it waited to re-up with the studio, however, the greater the risk that Universal would start looking elsewhere for its next deal.
The question now is whether HBO will treat Universal movies the way Netflix plans to treat Disney movies, by making them broadly available online. Currently, HBO streams movies via HBO Go, but access remains restricted to authenticated subscribers to HBO via cable or satellite. If Netflix ends up redefining the standard for subscription access to movies in what used to be the pay-TV window, HBO may have no choice but to drop the authentication wall for HBO Go.