How HBO and Netflix Differ

HBO no longer stands alone. After consistently racking up more Emmy awards than any other network year after year, HBO found itself tied with Netflix for most wins for the 2018 Emmy Awards. And going into the ceremony, Netflix gained more nominations than HBO, with 112 for Netflix, 108 for HBO. Of course, Netflix is not the only rival to HBO’s dominance of television – Amazon and Hulu belong in the same class albeit as challengers, and traditional network television, while fading, is still alive, if not completely well. But the conversation about the future of television begins with HBO and Netflix. As HBO and Netflix shape the entertainment landscape, they reveal four crucial differences that help explain how they ascended to their elite levels:

  • HBO is a media company. Netflix is a technology powerhouse.
  • HBO changed how TV is made. Netflix changed how we view TV.
  • HBO creates game changers. Netflix makes crowd pleasers.
  • HBO is run by a captain of industry. Netflix is run by a digital celebrity.

For all the money that Netflix invests into content creation, it has never delivered anything like The SopranosDeadwood, or Game of Thrones – entertainment landmarks whose influence, like that of the Beatles, will be discussed many years from now. But perhaps Netflix doesn’t need to. The Emmy Awards continue to reward HBO for its blockbusters. But Netflix is now demonstrating that you can be a crowd pleaser and gain critical acclaim – not bad for a company that started producing content only six years ago. So far, there is one clear winner of the HBO/Netflix rivalry: the audience.

Amazon: One Industry to Rule Them All?

For once, Amazon is playing catch-up.

The great disruptor is just another player in the entertainment space. Amazon Studios, its TV and movie arm, is still looking for a blockbuster like Game of Thrones to compete in an elite league defined by HBO, Hulu, and Netflix. Amazon Music is a follower behind Spotify and Apple Music.

But recently Amazon has made some moves in a bid to transform itself from a follower into a leader. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Netflix: You Can’t Always Get What You Want


If the ultimate measure of a brand is what you do, not what you say, then Netflix is underperforming seriously. The company brags that “Netflix members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen” and that members have can “instantly watch unlimited movies and TV shows streaming over the Internet.”  But in reality, members have access to a very limited streaming inventory a problem exacerbated by the newly announced HBO/Universal Pictures agreement that will box out Netflix for the next decade. And recent high-profile service outages have made a mockery of the promise of “anytime, anywhere” viewing. Netflix would do well to start taking accountability for its brand and consider revising its brand promise to manage the expectations of its members.

As has been widely reported, Netflix suffered embarrassing service outages on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Netflix blamed Amazon Web Services for the Christmas Eve outage, and Amazon took accountability by apologizing and explaining the outage. Well, blaming Amazon Web Services helps members understand what happened, but the problem is that no one really wants to hear explanations, nor should they. We don’t need to know how the sausage is made; if we get a faulty product, we need accountability.

But for all the bad PR the services outages caused, a bigger, more ongoing threat to the Netflix brand consists of limited streaming inventory — a shortcoming Netflix attempted to redress with its December 2012 play for exclusive rights to Walt Disney Studios, only to suffer a setback in January 2013 when HBO and Universal agreed to a distribution arrangement that blocks Netflix from crucial content for years.

You don’t stream movies on demand on Netflix; you watch whatever Netflix can make available to you. In recent days, I wanted to watch four movies that Netflix lacked online: Breakdown, The Dead Zone (the 1983 version), Executive Decision, and Waiting for Guffman. In three out of four cases, the movies I wanted were available on DVD only, and the fourth, not at all. These are just recent examples. Too often, Netflix is not a place for me to stream a specific movie that I have in mind, especially with catalog titles — a major problem for the affluent and growing Baby Boomer population, which has money to spend and movie memories that date back a lot farther than The Hunger Games. Clearly, Netflix has a long way to go in order to fulfill its brand promise for people who want to stream movies. And remember, Netflix wants you to stream movies. This is the company that tried to foist streaming on its customers in the first place.

So what’s the solution? I think Netflix should take accountability where it matters: price. When a movie you want is not available, Netflix should offer you a rebate. When Netflix suffers an outage, Netflix should offer you a price break. Would putting its money where its mouth is motivate Netflix to become a high-performance brand? Moreover, Netflix could address the shortage of streaming inventory by revising its brand promise and setting expectations. For instance, movie service Fandor sets expectations by promising members “an online destination for watching amazing independent films from all over the world.”


You won’t find Die Hard on Fandor, but you’ll have success with more esoteric movies such as the 1921 Buster Keaton comedy Hard Luck. By contrast, Netflix has engineered itself to disappoint by positioning itself as something of an all-purpose movie rental destination, which it certainly is not. Is Netflix the preferred brand for television enthusiasts? For recently run movies? I don’t know, but I’d like for Netflix to tell me. Unless Netflix does a better job protecting its brand, ironically Amazon will eat Netflix for lunch.

History & marketing converge with “The Pacific”


Promoting an entertainment venture based on a world war, as HBO has done with The Pacific mini-series, is a delicate matter. The Pacific, which premiered on March 14, recounts the story of U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater of World War II.  Although World War II has largely receded into history’s dusky corridors for many of us, even still the war’s legacy is one of suffering and killing on a monumental scale.  So I am relieved and pleased to see how The Pacific has been marketed over the past several weeks — a tasteful and educational multichannel experience.

For instance, the digital experience focuses on an interactive map that uses striking graphics and narration by The Pacific co-producer Tom Hanks to allow you to explore in more detail pivotal battles depicted in the mini-series.


A Facebook page provides previews of upcoming episodes but, even more interesting, a forum for fans to talk about the show.  I like reading the occasional post from a war veteran inspired to speak up, or the inevitable student of history who takes issue with the way a detail is depicted in the mini-series. I think the page brings out the best side of social media by bringing together enthusiasts who share history’s bond.


Similarly, PR for the series has been thoughful, the highlight being Time magazine profile of Tom Hanks, depicted as “America’s Historian in Chief” for his involvement producing historical epics like Band of Brothers, John Adams, and now, The Pacific, among other ventures.


Another highlight is Hanks and co-producer Steven Spielberg providing insights into why they tackled The Pacific via an engaging Q&A with Entertainment Weekly.  Notice the focus on the personalities behind the series.  Clearly, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg realize their celebrity appeal is essential to raising awareness for The Pacific — they know better than to assume that a war that occurred nearly 70 years ago is going to sell itself.  Does World War II belong in Entertainment Weekly? You bet it does.

I think the highlight of The Pacific marketing is the print element.  The series is based largely on the books With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie.  HBO did not publish those books.  But thanks to The Pacific, these noteworthy memoirs, published decades ago, are back in wide circulation.  Their availability is more than marketing but rather a public service.


On top of that, Hugh Ambrose, son of famed historian Frank Ambrose, makes his own contribution to the literature of the war through his The Pacific, the official companion piece of the mini-series.  Kudos to Bantam, Presidio Press, and NAL Hardcover for publishing these books.

But an entertainment venture is no substitute for history itself.  In that regard, the real value of The Pacific has yet to be realized.  We don’t yet know how many viewers of the mini-series will be inspired to dig deeper into the history of the war and its impact on us today.  But if the marketing of The Pacific does nothing more than draw viewers to the mini-series, then at least the job has been done admirably.