The Writers Guild of America strike and the still-ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike are having an impact on the content slates for HBO and Max, but Casey Bloys, the chairman and CEO of the division, does not seem too concerned.
Bloys said that while the resolution of the strikes will affect the cost of programming, they are unlikely to change any specific green lights. That being said, he also acknowledged that his company and others are trying to figure out what the “right” amount of money to spend in streaming is.
“We’ve been we’ve been through strikes before, you know, they increase the cost,” Bloys said Thursday. “I don’t see a scenario where I go, ‘well, I was going to make another tentpole show, but now I’m not going to because we have to pay X amount more.’ I don’t think it works like that.”
“Again, I think the bigger impact in this environment is dictated more by what’s the right amount of money to spend in streaming, how do you make money in that, as opposed to costs have gone up X percent … I mean, it’s something you have to take into account of course, but I just don’t see it affecting the kinds of shows we make.”
When asked to elaborate on how HBO and Max may adjust their budgets, Bloys explained:
“I would say it’s not about necessarily the individual budgets for the shows because obviously, some of the shows we make are big and expensive, other ones are not,” he said. “It’s more about on a macro level, what’s the right amount of spending in streaming to make money? What everybody is trying to figure out is how do you make money doing this? It looks like most people prefer streaming, that’s where everybody’s headed, that’s what consumers like. Doesn’t mean people aren’t using linear and it doesn’t mean that linear is not still profitable. It is, but you know the long-term trends, so how do we embrace streaming, but also do it in a way that we’re able to make money?”
Bloys made the comments while speaking to reporters in Warner Bros. Discovery’s Hudson Yards headquarters Thursday morning. During the presentation, Bloys also unveiled a wide-ranging programming slate for 2024 leading into 2025 (including a rough return date for season two of House of the Dragon), and announced new programming as well, including a slate of unscripted shows from Chip and Joanna Gaines, and a surprise new season of the true crime docuseries The Jinx.
Bloys also addressed a story that revealed that he had asked someone else at HBO to create a fake Twitter account to respond to some critics, calling the decision “a very dumb idea” and apologizing to those mentioned.
He also acknowledged that the strikes pushed back some programming, with the It prequel series Welcome to Derry and the next season of The White Lotus likely moving to 2025 because of the delays in production. Season two of The Last of Us will also start production next spring.
“It’s shows that we’ve had on the runway and were in the middle of shooting obviously — Penguin would have been in spring depending — so we’ve had to adjust across the board,” Bloys said.
He also addressed the strategy shift to license HBO content to free ad-supported streaming services and to Netflix, acknowledging that there is a “balance” at play.
“We have to be protective of the shows that we have and are successful. But, you know, I worked in television long enough that syndication used to be, that was the pot of gold. That was the brass ring that meant that your show was gonna go on and have a life after its initial run and live for decades,” Bloys said. “So the idea of selling a show outside of your ecosystem wasn’t an unusual idea, obviously at HBO we did it a lot with with Band of Brothers, which was on I think History network and Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City. We basically sold everything, so it’s not a new concept.”
“Obviously, streaming and companies kind of reorienting themselves has impacted that,” he continued. “But I think the way that we’re doing it somewhat cautiously, doing it co-exclusively, we’re never giving anybody an exclusive right to a show. What we’ve seen so far … with Ballers and any show that we’re putting on, we’re seeing an uptick on that. So it has been helpful. That said, I don’t think you’re going to see more recent shows, you’re not going to see the shows I presented here on anywhere else until years later, which is the syndication model, so I am comfortable with it.”
Bloys also addressed a litany of other questions, including any concerns he has about “tentpole fatigue.” Max of course will have a number of shows based on IP from the WBD portfolio, including Penguin, which will debut in 2024 and is set in the world of The Batman, as well as shows from the Game of Thrones and It universes, among others. Bloys also said they are developing a Crazy Rich Asians series.
“I think tentpole fatigue comes from when you’re telling the same story over and over within the same universe,” Bloys said. “I think unfortunately, Marvel — as good as their shows are — there’s probably been a lot of them. And I think that’s one of the advantages of what we’ve got at Warner Bros. is it’s not just one set of stories, there’s a lot of stuff and it’s also the balance. If you let quality be your guide on HBO and with Max originals. I think it’s a pretty good way to balance it. But I think not starting with a preset of you know we need 5 tentpoles or anything like that.”
And he also discussed the decision to rebrand HBO Max as Max, reiterating that he thinks the move is a good one for HBO.
“One of the reasons why I was for taking HBO out of the title is because I want HBO shows to be HBO shows,” Bloys said. “Once you put HBO in the title than every show that comes on the service is assumed to be an HBO show. I look at that as a platform a little bit like a cable bundle … HBO is a very, very important part of that but I wanted to be unique and special and its own brand. So that was the idea with taking it out of the title, so that it wasn’t assigned to everything that comes across the service.”
And he said that while his colleague, WBD streaming chief JB Perrette, is the one most focused on crasking down on password sharing, it is something he is thinking about too, though he adds that Max may not see the same impact that Netflix is getting.
“I will say the one kind of advantage Netflix has in terms of password sharing is they are the streaming service with the first mover advantage,” Bloys said. “They’re out there, so I think they’ve probably got a little bit more power to crack down on password sharing than other streamers. But it’s definitely on the list that I think every streamer is thinking about.”