With the arrival of WarnerMedia’s subscription streaming service HBO Max in May, chief content officer Kevin Reilly isn’t just excited about the new business and content opportunities. He’s looking forward to ending a long-standing heartache for network executives: seeing their original programs find larger, new audiences on streaming services completely outside of their purview.
That’s what happened with TNT’s Animal Kingdom, which found an “even bigger following” when it began streaming on Amazon, said Reilly, who is also the president of TNT, TBS and truTV, at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. “It was really difficult for us to have done this for so many years where you would develop a show, market the show, launch the show and then sell … over to these streaming services, who really were not partnered with you in the holistic management of that property.”
HBO Max, which will become the home of all new scripted and unscripted programs from TBS, TNT and truTV, will hopefully end that headache, Reilly said. Although the exact details of those dynamics aren’t yet hashed out (including the window of time between a show’s linear air dates and its streaming availability), there’s an overarching plan for the properties to “work together,” he said.
Keeping programming in the family will present other opportunities, too. Sarah Aubrey, who joined the HBO Max team in July as head of original programming, said the streaming service will provide a place for certain linear programs to thrive in a new environment. The company has already migrated two existing WarnerMedia shows to the service: the dark comedy Search Party, which originated on TBS, and Doom Patrol, which began on the company’s DC Universe streaming service.
“We have an interesting opportunity with this service to take shows … that really were struggling to find a linear audience and put them on a platform where we can really see them grow,” Aubrey said.
Plus, the company is planning on boosting viewership for new linear seasons by streaming a show’s prior seasons to HBO Max audiences. “We’ll manage it in a way so you can have a new season check-up just as the next season is coming on,” Reilly said.
There are still plenty of unknowns about HBO Max, which will debut sometime in May of this year for $15 a month, the same price as a standard HBO subscription. Reilly acknowledged that within the 10-year trajectory of HBO Max, executives are still trying to work out “how we not blur, but manage that whole ecosystem ourselves.”
While HBO Max is being positioned as the new crown jewel of WarnerMedia, it will not be the only home for all WarnerMedia programming out of the gate. In addition to plenty of IP tied up in long-term loans to other companies, WarnerMedia’s two niche SVOD services, Boomerang and DC Universe, will continue operating as standalone subscriptions at an additional fee, even as some of the programming on those services like Doom Patrol, migrate over to HBO Max.
The dynamic that will exist between HBO Max and those niche properties is still being worked out, Reilly said, but all the services are not currently being offered as a bundle.
There will be another content gap, too: The premium cable network Cinemax will not be a part of HBO Max, and Cinemax will also stop producing original programming, Reilly said.
But even without Cinemax, Boomerang and DC Universe programming, HBO Max is constructing a considerable content slate. Ahead of HBO Max’s debut, the company is lining up big talent to produce programming for the service.
The company has inked a three-year overall deal with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who is already working on the HBO Max feature film Let Them All Talk, to produce content for both HBO and HBO Max. The service has also greenlit The Uninhabitable Earth, an anthology speculative fiction series from Succession creator Adam McKay focusing on the effects of climate change. And HBO Max has ordered eight episodes of an unscripted series The Event, which will center on celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s catering company.
In addition to all of the library content already announced for HBO Max, including Friends and The Big Bang Theory, HBO Max will also be the home of more than 500 classic movies with help from Turner Classic Movie experts, said Michael Quigley, evp of content acquisitions for HBO, HBO Max, TBS, TNT and truTV.
“This will be the preeminent classic movie offering of any service out there,” Quigley said.
HBO Max will enter the scene after the other highly anticipated debut of Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service slated to premiere in April. But even with the increased competition, Reilly bristled at the term “streaming wars” to describe the state of the industry.
“I don’t even like that term,” he said. “As these services premiere and roll out, they are all really quite different. They are part of a consumer decision and equation about what they’re going to watch in their household.”