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How HBO Go Expanded South with a Latin America Rollout

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HBO Go is one of the biggest success stories in TV Everywhere, bringing subscribers streaming access to HBO titles, so it's no surprise that HBO looked to capitalize on its success in other markets. HBO Latin America, a subsidiary of HBO, debuted its own version of the service in the third quarter of 2012. With multiple countries, different languages, and rights issues to deal with, this rollout was more complicated than that of the U.S. original.

HBO and HBO Latin America (LA) began planning the international expansion in 2010, says Dionne Bermudez, HBO LA's new media and business developer. She and her team conducted market analysis and worked on development throughout 2011. From the start, there were important differences in this version. While the service is a loyalty tool in the United States, adding value to a subscription, HBO doesn't enjoy the same large audience in Latin American countries. HBO Go, then, wasn't planned as a tool to keep subscribers happy, but a reason for non-subscribers to sign on.

HBO LA took its time on market analysis, deciding where a rollout made the most sense. The company wasn't interested in going to market quickly, Bermudez says, but in matching its product to customer needs. The first, and so far only, platform that HBO LA offers is on the desktop. An iOS version will follow, "hopefully very, very soon," Bermudez says.

As the product lead, Bermudez needed to look at the entire area and decide which countries show the most reach and potential. Different markets have different realities.

"It's a lit bit challenging for us, because we don't develop per market. We develop for the entire region," Bermudez says.

HBO Go needed quite a bit of tweaking for Latin American markets. It needed electronic subtitles, for example, which could be turned on and off easily, since programming is always in the original language.

"Piracy is a reality in our market," says Bermudez, which is why HBO Go service is limited to two devices per subscriber. Letting customers use it on an unlimited number of devices left HBO LA feeling vulnerable, she says. Limiting the number of devices lets HBO LA keep control of the service.

HBO LA serves multiple Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil, which speaks Portuguese, so it was left with the choice of creating one combined service or two different ones. Because of the modifications that would have been necessary, it chose to launch two different services.

Geo-restrictions were a challenge, unlike with the original HBO Go. If a person in Mexico or another Spanish-speaking country travels, they'll be able to stream the same service on their computers. Brazilians, however, can only receive HBO Go in their home country. This is because HBO LA didn't acquire content rights for outside of Brazil for the Brazilian version of the service.

To help it create the service, HBO LA worked with Positive Flux, which offers new media strategic planning. Most of the HBO LA team only had linear broadcast experience, so they needed a partner experienced in online. Positive Flux helped with the market analysis and the backend development, staying on until launch. The company was "extremely helpful," Bermudez says.

Connectivity is more of an issue in Latin American countries than in the U.S., says Larry Thaler, president of Positive Flux. While HBO Go needs to offer a premium experience, it also needs to perform well in less-than-ideal conditions. One of his company's tasks was conducting extensive in-market testing to determine the optimal bitrates (which Thaler can't divulge).

Now that HBO LA has launched HBO Go, it will expand the rollout with new platforms and countries.

"it's been a quite an exciting and successful endeavor," Bermudez says.

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