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Eric Kessler: HBO Go Draws Raves, Even From Competitors

As networks and cable operators wrestle with delivering content to consumers who increasingly want to watch television on whichever device they choose, HBO copresident Eric Kessler thinks his network has the perfect example of TV Everywhere in HBO Go.

“People want to watch their content wherever they want, and the ability to be on the bus home from work and watch last week’s episode of Game of Thrones or every episode of True Blood is a real value to our subscribers,” Kessler says.

Even the competition agrees that HBO’s app is a big success, both in terms of what it offers and how seamless the user experience is. “It’s fantastic, they really did a great job,” acknowledges one rival executive from CBS Corp. who asked not be identified in complimenting a rival.

HBO Go, the network’s subscriber-authenticated service, was first launched as a Website in February 2010 as a way to add value to the subscription. Kessler, a marketer by background, developed the platform by talking with subscribers to get an understanding of what they wanted from a broadband product; HBO Go launched with about 400 hours of content.

But before launching the HBO Go app on May 2, the network incorporated consumer feedback and changed the programming model to include nearly every episode of every HBO show, now totaling more than 1,400 hours. Kessler calls the switch a “game-changer.”

Although the app’s recent launch makes it too early to measure the effect on subscriber life cycle, the app has been downloaded more than 4 million times, according to Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes. Kessler says more than 85% of subscribers who are using it say they are watching more HBO overall. And while HBO Go is primarily a retention tool, Kessler does see it as a draw to the pay cabler.

“We think the product is so robust that it will ultimately attract new subscribers as well,” he says.

After the early success of the app, the next step is to make HBO Go available on televisions via game consoles and Internet-connected TVs, Kessler says.

HBO will also leverage the platform’s technology to create more “enhanced viewing experiences,” like the network did recently with Game of Thrones when it created an on-screen feed of interactive features that ran simultaneously with the episodes.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to make the experience of watching HBO Go on your iPad or whatever device not simply just as a second- set device, which it will certainly be in part, but to create unique entertainment experiences,” Kessler says.