How Sky’s Now can remain a leading streamer even without HBO

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HBO recently announced that it will be launching its streaming service Max in the UK in 2026.

The over-the-top (OTT) streaming service is one of the most popular in the United States. Data from JustWatch reports that it has overtaken Disney+ as the third most-used streaming platform in the country. Moreover, Max has been ranked the highest in terms of total customer satisfaction among U.S. subscription-streaming services, meaning that expectations for its launch in the UK will be high.

Currently, Brits have been able to access HBO’s content – which covers a plethora of iconic and award-winning shows from The Sopranos to Succession and Game of Thrones via Sky’s Now streaming service. However, this launch likely means that HBO’s content will evidently be removed from Now. This means that Sky has two years to plan ahead so that it remains a leading streamer once Max lands in the UK in 2026.

Solving the content conundrum

While Sky has its own high profile content on the Now platform, such as Cinema and Sport, another big draw for people signing up to it is the unique access it provides to HBO content via its Entertainment plans. A solution for Sky would be to leverage its existing offerings within its Cinema and Sport plans, but it cannot fall behind on Entertainment. So it will be crucial for Sky to find an alternative content partner to replace it, which should be of equal or higher standard.

This is particularly important, given we’re still not clear on what extra content HBO is set to provide on Max. In the U.S, it is also home to all of the Discovery shows, Warner Brothers movies and many other entertainment programmes. If its UK offering arrives with all of these extras too, then Max is going to be well-positioned to rival some of the established players.

However, being an established player in the UK market can work to Sky’s advantage. No doubt a huge amount of marketing will help HBO gain a foothold in the UK when it does launch, but for the majority of UK audiences, it is still an unknown entity. Getting a strong, immediate foothold in an already very crowded market is not going to be easy. Max will have to continue to attract subscribers with new and exciting content to keep them top of mind with consumers.

Sky and other competitive streaming platforms alike have a short grace period during the time it takes HBO to find its feet in a new market. Sky and Now are masters at cross-platform penetration, and the app is available across multiple devices, including their own branded hardware. Sky will be able to leverage this massive market penetration – all while Max is still finding its way into people’s homes.

The battleground will be user experience

Content and established presence aside, another focus for Sky is to ensure it continues to provide audiences with a first class user experience on NOW. We already know that Max is rated highly in America for its customer satisfaction, so Sky’s user experience needs to be cutting-edge and flawless.

In market research we undertook during the pandemic, we found that Sky Glass came out on top as the best device on which to watch TV or VOD content from a user experience perspective. Sky has therefore got to maintain this and match it with Now’s offering. Creating a strong user experience will be one of the reasons to retain customers on the platform.

Sky is also renowned for being one of the first in the market with new cutting edge experiences and features. It should leverage this even further over the next two years – particularly with the huge developments happening currently with AI technology. There are enormous opportunities for Sky to experiment here with new features on Now to help enhance the experience and make it more seamless for consumers when they are browsing content, as well as watching it, whether that’s live sports content through to TV and films.

HBO may not be entering the UK market for another two years, but this time is a warning for Sky and NOW to ensure it has a plan in place for when it does launch.

Sky has a well-established offering in the UK, and it’s crucial that it leverages this familiarity with audiences – and the experience and insight it already has on British viewing behaviours and patterns – to ensure that it provides audiences with a strong content offering for 2026.

All of this should be coupled with an unrivalled and competitive user experience. Sky is already strong in its innovation, so it has the capabilities to truly become a trailblazer when it comes to embracing new and cutting-edge technology. This could have the power to enhance and improve the viewing experience for customers, something which will rival not only new players but its peers in the streaming space.

Sam Drury is UX Director at UIC Digital


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