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Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Friday, March 10th, 2023
What to call the new HBO Max is the least of David Zaslav's problems
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Friday, March 10th, 2023.
BELIEVE ME, WHAT TO CALL THE NEW HBO MAX IS THE LEAST OF DAVID ZASLAV'S PROBLEMS
Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw wrote a piece reporting that among other things, the new HBO Max likely won't include the name HBO:
The company plans to charge $10 a month for the advertising-supported tier of the new service, which is expected to be named Max, and either $15 or $16 a month for the ad-free version, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. Those are the current prices for HBO Max.
Warner Bros. will also sell a new, higher-priced subscription for about $20 a month, offering better video quality and possibly other features, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. The company is still working on the plans and it’s possible they’ll change.
Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav is betting the addition of Discovery’s reality programming will increase the number of people who want to pay for the service, which competes with Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon. Warner Bros. plans to rename the service, believing the HBO name turns off many potential subscribers.
I know I have been critical about David Zaslav's tenure at the new Warner Bros. Discovery and this is a perfect distillation of why.
Even before the merger between Warner Media and Discovery had closed, Zaslav was arguing in interviews that combining HBO Max and Discovery+ into one massive service was a natural progression of the business. In fact, during last August's quarterly earnings call, he made that move a priority for the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery:
Warner Bros. Discovery will merge its HBO Max and Discovery Plus services into a single streaming platform, as part of a plan to hit 130 million paying subscribers by 2025 in the highly competitive market.
The streaming merger, announced Thursday by the recently formed media conglomerate’s chief executive, David Zaslav, during a quarterly earnings call, means Warner Bros. properties such as the Harry Potter series and the sitcom “Friends” would be available alongside Discovery shows like “Deadliest Catch” and “Worst Cooks in America.”
The firm plans to launch the merged streaming service in the United States next summer, then in Latin America later that year. Europe and the Asia Pacific will follow in 2024.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s 2025 target of 130 million paying subscribers would be an increase of more than 40 percent from the combined 92 million subscribers it has on HBO Max and Discovery Plus.
But by last month, the company had decided to keep the two services separate, although some of the high profile Discovery unscripted programming will also appear on both services.
My issue is that the idea was flawed from the beginning and it feels like the equivalent of one of those ideas that gets floated on Twitter by someone whose only experience with the streaming business is subscribing to both Netflix AND Apple TV+.
Based on conversations I had at the time with WBD executives, there seemed to be a belief that combining the two services would somehow "unlock the value" of the streamers. There was even initially talk that the price of the combined service might go up $4-5 a month over the current HBO Max price. In part because top executives at the company believed HBO Max is underpriced in the market.
The combination of the two services never made strategic sense to me. Internal numbers apparently showed there was very little overlap between the two subscription bases. And from a revenue standpoint, combining the services and then boosting the price was going to lead to increased churn. And even more troublesome, every internal projection seemed to show a net revenue loss when compared to the current arrangement.
And then there were the global implications. In Europe, Discovery+ has a substantial live sports component and Discovery Sports is a well-known brand. Pulling all of that into a new combined streamer would be both a logistical and technical nightmare. As one Discovery EMEA executive told me last fall, "This idea is.....what is a word that means the opposite of branding?"
So at some point, Warner Bros. Discovery decided to pivot and lower their ambitions. They began stressing that they weren't going to chase subscribers at any cost. The international rollout has been slowed, and the company has halted or substantially cut the production of original programs in territories where HBO Max is already available. It has also recently announced several deals to license a wide array of HBO content in markets where the company had previously announced an eventual HBO Max rollout. Which suggests further retrenchments are on the way.
Even worse, WBD has walked itself into a box in North America. If the company has indeed decided to keep the monthly cost of the new service at the current level, then the only way to grow revenue is by some combination of growing subscribers and cutting costs. Yes, it can add a bunch of content from its various linear channels and Discovery Networks onto the new service. But that seems to fly in the face of recent arguments the company wants a leaner content mix filled with primarily heavily-watched titles.
The new HBO Max also can't draw too much content from Discovery+, or it faces the prospect of losing subscribers to that service while not converting them into HBO Max subscribers. I have heard some talk of a possible twentysomething dollar bundle of the two services. But that still is unlikely to move the needle much.
There aren't any great options right now and even if there were, it's not clear David Zaslav and his team would see them. The entire transition in their streaming business has been mismanaged from the start. And the refusal of executives to speak on the record other than at select conferences is not helping matters.
And not wanting to include the name HBO because it will turn off subscribers? I barely know what to say.
ODDS AND SODS
* Season three of I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson premieres May 30th on Netflix.
* Fox is moving forward with The Flintstones spinoff series Bedrock. Elizabeth Banks, who has been shepherding the project as exec producer, will lead the voice cast of the series, starring as Pebbles, the adult daughter of Fred and Wilma.
* The BBC is denying that politics played any role in a decision to not broadcast an episode of the upcoming BB1 series Wild Isles.
* Roku filed an 8-K in which it informed investors that "approximately $487 million" or 26% of its cash and cash equivalents balance is deposited with Silicon Valley Bank. “The company’s deposits with SVB are largely uninsured. The FDIC will pay uninsured depositors an advance dividend within the week. Uninsured depositors will receive a receivership certificate for the remaining amount of uninsured funds. … At this time, the company does not know to what extent it will be able to recover its cash."
I heard from a lot of you following yesterday's piece on Netflix's PR stumbles. And wow, are there some unhappy people out there.
A number of publicists from entertainment publicity firms who have dealt with Netflix PR contacted me, and I could write an entire newsletter just about those complaints:
"My client expected me to maximize the amount of press coverage his show received and the Netflix publicists I dealt with were passive-aggressive to the point of being useless. They refused to work on any joint ideas together or coordinate coverage ideas. I didn't know who they had contacted, who had seen screeners or anything else. They kept telling me "we've got this," when it was clear his show wasn't a priority for them. Which is fine, I'm a grown-up. Then help me do my job and I'll also help you."
"I now tell clients we should expect to do most of the heavy-lifting."
"I've never had a traditional studio put so many restrictions on press interaction. They wouldn't let us talk about the show until they announced it. And that was less than three weeks before the premiere date."
I also heard from quite a few people who had worked on shows that had premiered on Netflix and while most of their production experiences were fine, the marketing and PR efforts left them sad and more than a bit irate.
"I know that every showrunner complains their show didn't get enough support. But I had writers on Twitter contacting me, hoping to speak with me about the show. They had tried to work with the Netflix publicists and had been ignored. I spent nearly two years of my life on that project. I have no idea what the problem was on their end. But I would have talked to people all day about the show. Maybe they just figure another show is coming next week, so whatever? I poured my soul into this and got f*&^ed."
TWEET OF THE DAY
WHAT'S NEW FOR FRIDAY:
A Lifeguard's Obsession (Lifetime)
Chang Can Dunk (Disney+)
Have A Nice Day! (Netflix)
Kiff Series Premiere (Disney)
Luther: The Fallen Sun (Netflix)
Miley Cyrus - Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions) (Disney+)
Most Dangerous Game: New York (The Roku Channel)
Rana Naidu (Netflix)
Real Madrid: Until The End (Apple TV+)
Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano (FX)
The Glory (Netflix)
Click Here to see the list of all of the upcoming premiere dates for the next few months.
SEE YOU MONDAY!
If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.