HBO's cable-free plan might not be as popular as we thought

HBO Now, the company’s streaming service that lets you get HBO without cable, will whiff on analyst predictions, according to the New York Post.

HBO Now launched in April, and was heralded as a way to reach people who love “Game of Thrones” but didn’t love paying $100 a month for cable. The streaming service lets you pay $15 per month to get HBO a la carte.

But the service might not yet have found as big an audience as analysts predicted, the Post reports.

Time Warner is expected to announce HBO Now subscriber numbers for the first time with Wednesday’s fourth-quarter earnings, and Wall Street expects the number to be between one and two million. But the Post says inside sources peg the number at 800,000 to one million, barely touching the bottom of that range.

For context, Netflix says has around 75 million subscribers (as of January), and Hulu has previously reported 9 million subscribers (as of last April).

HBO Now is a big part of the company’s bid to become “
ecosystem agnostic,” as CEO Richard Plepler puts it. That means that HBO will live wherever you are: your computer, phone, tablet, smart TV, Apple TV, Roku, and so on. But it won’t be tied to a cable subscription.

The thesis for this is that HBO’s brand is being weighed down by bloated cable packages. This is why its
hit show, “Game of Thrones,” has been the most pirated show in the world for four straight years — or so the thinking goes.

There have been recent signs that HBO is trying to pump up HBO Now. Early this month, the company released its new series, “Animals,” one day early on both HBO Now and HBO Go (HBO’s other streaming app that is tied to a cable subscription).
And though HBO said it has no immediate plans to shift the bulk of its catalogue away from a traditional TV release, this shows that apps are a priority.

Slow subscriber growth on HBO Now could be a reason for that.

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