HBO’s strategy for streaming domination just had a monster weekend

game of thrones beyonce hbo huge streaming surge gallery veep
As any Game of Thrones fan can attest, last weekend was an absolute monster one for HBO, as the beloved fantasy series made its season premiere alongside fan favorites Veep and Silicon Valley. But the weekend that was marked much more than just the return of some of HBO’s biggest shows. This was a blitzkrieg assault aimed directly at the HBO’s biggest rivals in the battle for all-out streaming supremacy.

Thanks to a mix of careful strategy that included a surprise album reveal from none other than Beyoncé herself, an enticing free trial program aimed at both cord-cutters and cable subscribers, and the return of the biggest show on television, it’s arguable that HBO just had its best weekend ever. But don’t take our word for it — it’s all in the numbers.

By the numbers

Mobile app tracker Apptopia has reported that, leading up to the Game of Thrones season 6 premiere on Sunday, HBO added 25,395 downloads of its standalone streaming app, HBO Now, on iOS devices. That’s up from 19,681 downloads from last year’s season 5 premiere, placing the app at number 4 in the “Top Overall” category on the App store, as well as knocking off HBO’s rival Netflix to take the stop spot in the Entertainment category — one that Netflix had previously held for three weeks running.

In total this weekend, HBO Now racked up nearly 40,000 downloads in the App store alone, along with an additional 61,965 downloads from Android’s Google Play, according to the site. Adding in cable subscribers who downloaded the HBO Go app, the numbers are even more impressive. With HBO Go’s 21,016 iOS downloads, and 30,914 Android downloads, the service picked up 153,000 downloads in two days.

HBO should be able to hold court as one of the most popular streaming services around.

The streaming portal also took on an unprecedented 429,670 daily active users, more than doubling usage measured in the weeks leading up to the big premieres. Since debuting exclusively on the Apple TV last April, HBO Now has been cruising as it has expanded both its overall reach and its user base. In fact, when it comes to reliability, the standalone version has historically outperformed its cable-authenticated counterpart. HBO Go had widely reported outages during the Game of Thrones season 5 premiere last year, while HBO Now was largely unaffected last year, and that trend appears to have continued this year.

While there were whispers of HBO Now outages on social media, including users having problems with stuttering and login (some of which could easily be attributed to user error), HBO Go fared worse. Monitoring site reported around 3,200 user complaints with the cable-ready version. And while both apps had their share of troubles, HBO Now accomplished what appears to be its best performance ever, managing to register very few complaints under extreme duress. While not without its hiccups, it seems HBO’s streaming aspirations have finally paid off, as the service has transitioned from its roots as a top dog on cable platforms to become one of the biggest players in streaming.

Beyonce Lemonade

Making Lemonade

It wasn’t just HBO’s streaming apps that saw a big bump over the weekend, either. Jay Z’s oft-troubled streaming service, Tidal, also got a bump, thanks in part — ironically, given their rumored estrangement — to a carefully orchestrated surprise album drop from pop queen Beyoncé herself on HBO.

Teased ahead of its premiere Saturday night, no one knew what to expect from the diva’s HBO Lemonade event. Was it a video? Was it a making-of documentary? Was it a surprise album release a la her self-titled fifth album, released exclusively on iTunes in 2013? Those who guessed all three get the the prize this time, as Beyoncé shocked the music world with an 11-song album/multimedia event in which she explored themes of betrayal, feminism, sexuality, and heartache, all set to a visual backdrop that only she could pull off. The bump for Tidal came after the album was temporarily hosted exclusively on the service following the premiere.

While these massive multimedia events are becoming the norm for the diva, HBO’s exclusive world premiere for the album was a huge get — one that’s likely to expand the service’s reach into new audiences.

The first one’s free

Finally, HBO’s enticing free trial incentives have no doubt converted some previous outliers to become loyal subscribers. The service has long offered a 30-day free trial for cord-cutters looking into HBO Now as a standalone streaming option, and this weekend HBO included a free 48-hour trial to anyone watching over its other platforms, giving users three free ways to play (HBO, HBO Go, and HBO Now) for the debut of its biggest programming event of the year.

Judging by Game of Thrones’ notoriously slow burn that keeps users begging for the next episode week-to-week, many of the service’s new subscribers will likely stay on long after their free trials expire. Adding in the company’s full back catalog on-demand, and sharp-witted comedy premieres in Veep (starring the spectacular Julia Louis-Dreyfus alongside a brilliant cast), and Silicon Valley (everyone’s favorite send-up of the California tech mecca), HBO should be able to hold court at least throughout the next few months as one of the most popular streaming apps — and services — available.

That said, while last weekend may be close to unparalleled when it comes to great weeks in streaming, it was also just one battle of many in the greater streaming war. With Netflix pulling at the bit every month thanks to a cacophony of new series and original films in the works, rivals like Amazon and Hulu growing stronger by the minute both in catalog size and quality of content, and more and more premium network rivals from traditional TV readying their own standalone streaming services, this fight has only just begun.

For now, however, you can tally the weekend of April 23 in HBO’s column. Your serve, Netflix.

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