Why HBO Is Streaming Its Most Popular Shows for Free

#StayHomeBoxOffice initiative aims to offer 'relief and distraction,' Bob Greenblatt says

the sopranos
All seven seasons of The Sopranos can now be streamed for free beginning today on HBO Go and HBO Now. Will Hart/HBO

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In an unprecedented move driven by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, HBO is making several of its most popular shows—including classics The Sopranos and The Wire, along with current hits Succession and Barry—available to watch on its platforms for free.

Beginning today, nine HBO series, 10 documentary films and docuseries (including the recent buzzy McMillion$), and 20 Warner Bros. theatrical releases can be viewed in their entirety completely free on HBO’s streaming platforms HBO Now and HBO Go as part of company’s new #StayHomeBoxOffice campaign.

HBO said the free content will also be available on participating cable and satellite partners’ platforms in the coming days.

It’s a decision that Bob Greenblatt, the chairman of WarnerMedia entertainment and direct-to-consumer, spearheaded in an effort to offer a gesture of goodwill and help encourage people to stay home, he told Adweek.

“All of us at WarnerMedia are grappling with the transition of sheltering and working from home, which means being isolated from friends and extended family, so we know how difficult this time is and how welcome high-quality in-home entertainment is,” Greenblatt said. “We are also keenly aware that many people are struggling, so we wanted to make some of our best content free. We see this as a great opportunity to open up HBO’s powerful catalog of programming to provide people with some relief and distraction.”

Ballers, Barry, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Succession, True Blood, Veep and The Wire will all be available to watch without an HBO subscription. Those titles were selected to offer up a combination of binge-able classics and more recent hits, Greenblatt explained.

These HBO shows are streaming for free as part of the campaign.

“Shows like The Sopranos and The Wire are cultural milestones with multiple seasons, making them great deep-dive binge watching opportunities,” he said. “Shows like Succession, Veep and Barry are more recent water-cooler hits, and we thought this would be a good opportunity for people to catch up on some of the shows they might have heard their friends talking about.”

On the film side, Warner Bros. selected 20 films to make available for free, including family titles like Arthur, Happy Feet Two, The Lego Movie 2, Pan and Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

“We partnered with Warner Bros. to present a diverse collection of movies with an emphasis on providing co-viewing opportunities for families with kids at home,” Greenblatt said.

The 10 docuseries and documentaries for free include: The Apollo; The Case Against Adnan Syed; Elvis Presley: The Searcher; I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter; The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley; Jane Fonda in Five Acts; McMillion$; True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality; United Skates; and We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest.

The #StayHomeBoxOffice campaign is one of several gestures from streaming services and media companies to offer up free programming, extended free trials and early releases to housebound audiences due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

As more people are confined to their homes, streaming usage has shot up across platforms. Last week, WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer chief research officer Cheryl Idell said viewership on the standalone streaming service HBO Now had surged 40%, and that viewership of shows like The Wire had tripled, while The Sopranos’ viewership had doubled.

The move to offer up swaths of free programming also comes just a month before the anticipated launch of WarnerMedia’s streaming platform HBO Max, which is slated to debut sometime in May and still plans to launch as scheduled despite having to delay filming of a Friends cast reunion.

However, Greenblatt said the move was not intended to be a part of that marketing push, which will ramp up in the next few weeks.

“Right now, this free programming opportunity is just a goodwill gesture to help all of us get through this unprecedented time of crisis, and encouraging people to stay home is totally in line with all of the critical health directives to getting on the other side of the COVID crisis,” Greenblatt said. “If HBO can ease some of that pain and make being confined a little more enjoyable, that’s all we’re hoping for.”

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.