HBO As A Cross-Cultural Brand


Outside of the United States, HBO is available in more then 50 countries with over 35 million subscribers!  Since 1991 HBO has overseen a number of extensions of its branding across the world, and has adapted its programming and distribution accordingly.  However, while reflecting on this it is interesting to consider the way viewers consume media around the world and their cultural approach to it.  In the United States, we are surrounded by media all the time and culturally we have a very encompassing view of it.  We love HBO because of the high quality programming, but we also enjoy the immediate access provided by HBO Go.  Yet, in other countries like China, the media is more influenced by the government, and the values they look for in the programming would be different then those in the United States.

The solution?  Give them both.

In most outlets across the world, HBO offers access not only to original programming that was produced for the United States, but also programming that is exclusively distributed or produced for that regions audience.   As seen on the website for HBO-Europe, in this market HBO offers shows and documentaries produced around Europe and that speak to their culture and specific interests.  The issue of language is of course important to address, but it is worth noting that a lot of the younger demographics internationally speak English, and these would be the ones primarily targets by the HBO brand.  In addition, the tradition of adding subtitles in a variety of languages to media is already a well established practice in the industry.

This mixed strategy of localized programming with standard distribution and branding seems to have worked well for HBO so far.  I would say that their brand very accurately represents the ever troubling condition of how consumers are all so very different and yet very much the same.  Television, film, and documentaries move us all, and although we might spend various amounts of time consuming media in a multitude of forms, there is something about the dramatic programming of HBO that is very translatable.  The question I now wonder is, the international market seems to have access to all of the original programming from the United States.  I wonder when we will have access to the incredible projects made for their countries in return.

HBO Europe Timeline


It’s not TV, It’s HBO.

HBO Culture

HBO And It’s Approach To Cultural Values.

There are many elements that influence the culture in a society, and all major brands need to have an understanding of this influence, and their role within it, in order to have a successful business.  HBO has taken steps to arrange itself in a rather unique position within the entertainment industry so as to appeal to certain elements of culture that give it particular merit and recognition.  HBO is known to be groundbreaking, original, and high quality, and it turn, highlights its attachment to the current societal values of innovation, entertainment, being social, and success.

How HBO is able to accomplish this is a rather complicated question, but one easy example is to take a look at the very business model of the brand.  HBO is a premium cable channel.  This means all those who want access need to pay an additional charge to their cable provider to receive the channel.  Regardless of whether or not HBO follows through with its promise to be worth the additional cost, simply by being a premium station HBO sets itself apart as something exclusive, a sign of success and luxury for the individual who can afford to have this additional channel.  However, an important element in the success of this business model is that the programming available is worth the additional cost.  The quality of HBO programming is acknowledged to be innovative and of sound technical quality and entertainment value.  To rephrase, HBO pushes the envelope.  It creates content that could never be shown on traditional network stations, and even on some cable stations.  It also uses the resources from its unique business model to pay for excellent equipment and visual effects, being unafraid to dedicate real money to each program it produces.  The combination of these two abilities in turn raises the entertainment value of the programming, allowing it to keep the promise of its premium status.

Once this reputation of HBO was established, it is then the goal of the brand to permeate its association with these values from its original users to other consumers.  For an entertainment brand, this is mostly done by the process of informal learning.  If an individual hears the praise of his or her peers about a show on HBO programming, he or she might feel more compelled to get the service and be able to better participate in the conversation.  If consumers learn that this is a service valued by other members of society, they will generally put more value in it.  This is a moment where appealing to subcultures is also a major choice for companies like HBO.  In closing, here are a few fun HBO commercials and thier related subcultures, the peers who will spread the word to one another and help the viewer base grow.

General Preview

Young Adults

Sports Fans


The Basics

HBO Shows Collage
Watch. Discover. Share.

HBO is self-described as “Bold, groundbreaking, unique, and original” with award-winning, critically acclaimed, high quality original television series such as True Blood, Game of Thrones, Entourage, Boardwalk Empire, Sex and the City, and The Sopranos. Diverse programming including documentaries, comedy specials and original films. Plus Championship Boxing and some of the biggest movies in Hollywood.  HBO is the oldest continuously operating pay television service in the United States, and its brand carries the respect of this established lineage, but also the excitement of new innovations such as HBO GO.

Established in 1972, the first program ever to air on the station “Home Box Office” was the 1971 film Sometimes a Great Notion starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda, which was immediately followed by an NHL hockey game between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks from Madison Square Garden.  Continuing its path of innovation, in 1975 HBO became the first television network to continuously deliver its signal via satellite when it broadcast the “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.  Jumping ahead to 1990s, the era of HBO original programming really began to take off.  The Larry Sanders Show is known as HBO’s flagship series during this decade and is still ranked #38 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,” and was also included on Time’s “100 Best TV Shows of All Time.”

Today, about 30% of cable, satellite, and telco households receive HBO, making it the second largest premium channel in the United States.  The brand has also expanded to include other channels such as HBO2, HBO Comedy, HBO Family, HBO Latino, HBO Signature, and HBO Zone.  However, in my opinion, the most influential brand expansion by HBO in recent history was the launch of HBO GO in 2010.  A TV Everywhere service, the HBO GO website carries over 1,000 hours of programing now available for streaming online by HBO cable subscribers from multiple services like Verizon FIOS, Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, and Google TV.  HBO GO is also available as an app to be used on mobile devices or certain gaming consoles like Xbox and Playstation.

At the time this blog is being started, September 2014, HBO has most recently been in the news for new speculations that it will continue to expand its services, turning HBO GO into a direct service in order to be able to sell content directly to consumers online without the need of a cable subscription.  This would allow HBO to better serve the ever growing population of “cord cutters” who are choosing not to purchase a cable subscription and rather get all of their television content online.  As a brand, HBO has a well established reputation and yet is ever evolving.  I am extremely interested in exploring its inner workings from a consumer behavior perspective over the course of the semester, and am looking forward to watching, discovering, and sharing my new knowledge with all of you.


* Please note that I have quite a few outside sources that provide more information about the various topics I discussed in this blog.  Simply click the underlined words, and you will be brought to the related content.