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Starz fires up HBO for Nordic kick off

Time Warner’s cable network HBO is launching an OTT service in the four Nordic countries this week after completing its content lineup there through an exclusive distribution deal with Starz Media Worldwide Distribution, which has global rights to premium movies and TV shows, including a lot of content from Sony and Disney. HBO Nordics is launching in partnership with Sweden’s Parsifal International, which is providing most of the local content, such as the Finnish TV channel URHOtv, which began in 2009 as a sports broadcaster, but has since expanded to include some movies, all available via a linear channel as well as online and mobile.

The Starz deal gives HBO Nordic access to a range of iconic content, including its New Zealand-made series Spartacus about the gladiator who led uprisings against the Roman Empire. This deal was a boost to HBO given that one of its main rivals in the Nordics, Netflix, ended its long-standing content partnership with Starz in February 2012 after failing to agree terms. At that time, Starz provided about 8 percent of Netflix content.

The Starz deal with HBO covers multiple platforms in the four countries, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, and includes live-action programming, animation, documentaries and programming acquired from outside producers such as home video retailers, broadcasters, ad-supported premium TV channels as well as the Internet.

Apart from the Starz deal, HBO’s Nordic launch has also been notable for being available only online, without requiring cable subscriptions as in the U.S. This enables it to compete directly with OTT providers such as Netflix at a lower price point, costing $12.50 a month for access to the extensive content catalogue as well as linear TV.

In the U.S., HBO has so far resisted pressure to sever its links with cable operators fearing it would stand to lose more in syndication rights than it would gain from new subscribers attracted by the lower cost of an OTT-only subscription. The situation is similar in the other countries where HBO Europe operates and will be providing its HBO Go TV Everywhere services exclusively to subscribers of its TV channel there. This is available over any sufficiently fast broadband connection, just like the U.S., with the European version providing access to around 1500 hours of programming plus a live stream of linear channels.

Recently, Ericsson announced that it had won a five year contract for HBO Nordic’s playout and media management.