WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar Shakes Up Management; Kevin Reilly, Bob Greenblatt Out

Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar was hired 90 days ago to shake up WarnerMedia and make the branded upstart SVOD service HBO Max competitive with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Peacock — and Disney-owned Hulu.

Kilar took a major step Aug. 7, letting WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, chief content officer for HBO Max and president of TNT, TBS and truTV, go in a major management reorganization. Andy Forssell, who worked with Kilar at Hulu, has been hired to oversee Max.

Jason Kilar

Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, who replaced Kevin Tsujihara, and Casey Bloys, president of programming at HBO, will spearhead a combined oversight of studios and networks. No other management changes were disclosed.

Greenblatt and Reilly are industry veterans, with the former leaving NBCUniversal to help launch Max. Reilly has held executive positions at NBC, Fox, FX and Turner.

Kilar, who outlined the changes in a letter to staff, outlined five areas he seeks to improve: HBO Max’s scope and importance within the company; simplifying studio internal structure; creating a consolidated International unit focused on scale and efficiency; bringing our key commercial activities into one group; making other structural changes for efficiency and company effectiveness.

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The management changes aren’t surprising since Max launched with what some observers have characterized as an underwhelming consumer response. AT&T CEO John Stankey said Max generated 3 million subs through the second quarter, ended June 30, adding another one million thus far in the current quarter. With more than 30 million HBO pay-TV subs, including HBO Now, the conversion rate is disappointing.

“Because of the gift that is the Internet, we have what I believe is one of the greatest opportunities in the history of media, which is to deliver our beloved stories and experiences directly to hundreds of millions of consumers across the globe,” Kilar wrote. “The pandemic’s economic pressures and acceleration of direct-to-consumer streaming adoption places an even higher premium on these points.”

‘HBO Now’ Rebrands to ‘HBO’ on Amazon Fire TV; No Deal Yet on HBO Max

HBO Now, the subscription streaming video service launched in 2015, is slowly being absorbed into the HBO brand — and ultimately HBO Max.

WarnerMedia July 30 disclosed it has reached a deal with Amazon for continued support of HBO Now for Amazon Prime members. The new deal, which replaces an agreement set to expire July 31, will give subscribers continued access through a standalone app and via Amazon Channels beginning Aug. 1. The extension mirrors an agreement between WarnerMedia and Roku for HBO Now access on the streaming media device’s platform.

Distribution of HBO Max on Amazon Fire TV and Roku, however, remains unresolved. On AT&T’s fiscal call, CEO John Stankey said about 3 million Max subscribers accessed the platform through WarnerMedia, leaving more than 33 million HBO subs in the U.S. who have yet to activate the free Max app.

Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos July 29 was asked before the House Anti-Trust Subcommittee whether the e-commerce behemoth uses its “gatekeeper” status to extract content and other giveaways from WarnerMedia in exchange for allowing Max on Fire TV.

Bezos said he did not know the details of the negotiations but said he thought a deal would eventually be produced. He said there could be scenarios, “if we’re just talking in the abstract,” where it could be inappropriate for Amazon to withhold access and other scenarios where it would be “very normal business and very appropriate” to deny access.

“I think this is kind of  [negotiating between] two large companies … is kind of normal,” Bezos said.

‘Friends’ Re-Runs Most-Popular Show on HBO Max

HBO Max is reporting that former primetime ratings winners “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory” are the No. 1 and No. 3 most popular shows among its subscribers.

The new original series “Love Life,” starring Anna Kendrick, is No. 2.

Eight HBO Max original shows (besides “Love Life”) are in the top 25 series since launch: “Doom Patrol,” “Looney Tunes Cartoons,” “The Not-to-Late Show,” “Legendary,” “Search Party,” “Close Enough” and “Expecting Amy,” among others.

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While the data is self-reported, parent WarnerMedia said other HBO originals such as “Insecure,” “Perry Mason,” “I’ll be Gone in the Dark,” and “I May Destroy You,” are tracking well on HBO Max as well.

As previously mentioned by AT&T CEO John Stankey on last week’s fiscal call, subscribers are spending 70% more time spent on Max compared to HBO Now (based on Jan. 2020 HBO Now viewership). The data would suggest it’s just a matter of time before WarnerMedia folds Now into Max — as it did with HBO Go.

WarnerMedia said the typical Max user is significantly younger than HBO subs, with 23% falling between the ages of 18 to 24. The company expects to have 50 million Max subs by 2025.

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Upcoming Max programming highlights include HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” “The Undoing,” “The Third Day,” “We Are Who We Are,” “Industry” and new seasons of “Room 104 and “His Dark Materials”; as well as upcoming Max Originals, including the feature premieres of An American Pickle, Let Them All Talk and Unpregnant; a new season of “Sesame Street”; “Raised by Wolves” and “The Flight Attendant”; international hits “Gomorrah,” “The Murders at the White House Farm,” and “Boys”; and the “Selena Gomez Cooking Show” and “Friends Reunion Special” (working titles).

CEO Stankey: ‘Still Have Work to Do’ Building HBO Max Subscriptions

One month after launching on May 27, WarnerMedia’s subscription streaming video platform, HBO Max, had 4.1 million subscribers who’d activated their Max app. By comparison, Disney+ had 10 million app activations after one day.

Disney’s foray into SVOD was greatly assisted by a strong brand and promotional campaign with Verizon, the latter affording the telecom’s 115 million wireless subs free 12-month access to Disney+. HBO Max has no similar jumpstarter.

While AT&T CEO John Stankey makes the usual upbeat comments (“It’s the early days”) and claims the average number of weekly hours spent viewing Max is 70% more than on HBO Now, which launched in 2015, the underlying message remains: Convincing consumers and existing HBO subs to join Max is a work in progress.

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“We still have work to do to educate and motivate the exclusively linear [HBO] subscriber base [about Max], and we’ll continue to work with our wholesale partners to drive these activation rates,” Stankey said.

AT&T ended the fiscal second quarter with 36.3 million combined HBO and HBO Max subscribers compared with 34.6 million at the end of 2019.

The CEO said there’s been “positive pull-through” combining Max with AT&T wireless and fiber plans, and expects that ongoing 5G handset upgrades will be one of the key drivers growing wireless service revenue in the second half of the year.

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Yet, while AT&T has worked overtime making Max available to consumers through nearly every content distributor in the U.S., it has failed to get assistance from Roku and Amazon Fire TV — which represent about 70% of all standalone streaming media devices in the U.S., according to Parks Associates.

Indeed, rival SVOD services Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu all have distribution on Roku and Fire TV. Negotiations between WarnerMedia, Roku and Amazon have reportedly stalled over control of user data, among other issues.

“We’ve tried repeatedly to make Max available to all customers using Amazon Fire devices, including those customers that have purchased HBO Now via Amazon [Channels],” Stankey said. “Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating Max and its customers differently on how they’ve chosen to treat other [SVOD] services.”

WarnerMedia: HBO and HBO Max Subs Top 36.3 Million

Following the May 27 launch of HBO Max, observers have been on high alert for any subscriber data from the upstart subscription video-on-demand platform. They’ll have to keep waiting for now.

WarnerMedia July 23 disclosed it had 36.3 million combined U.S. subscribers to HBO Max and HBO, up from 34.6 million on Dec. 31, 2019. It isn’t clear whether the 1.7 million sub increase is related to Max exclusively or a combination of HBO, HBO Now and HBO Max. In the quarter, WarnerMedia announced it would shutter HBO Go, which enabled HBO pay-TV subs on-demand access to programming.

WarnerMedia is the company formed by AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, including Warner Bros., HBO and Turner.

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Regardless, the coronavirus pandemic continues to negatively impact entertainment companies not named Netflix. WarnerMedia reported second-quarter operating income of $1.9 billion, which was down 18.4% from operating income of $2.32 billion during the previous-year period. Revenue plummeted 23% to $6.8 billion from $8.83 billion last year.

Warner revenue for the quarter dipped 3.9% to $3.3 billion from revenue of $3.43 billion in the previous-year period. The decline was driven by the absence of theatrical releases, lower video game and other revenue, partially offset by higher television revenue, including internal sales to HBO Max — WarnerMedia’s new subscription streaming video-on-demand platform.

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Studio operating expenses totaled $2.6 billion, down 11.1% from $2.92 billion last year. The decline was primarily due to the production hiatus and lower marketing expenses partially offset by higher film and production costs associated with HBO Max sales.

HBO revenue dropped 5.2% to $1.6 billion from $1.68 billion, driven by lower subscription revenue due to domestic linear subscriber declines, partially offset by growth in digital and international, including HBO Latin America following WarnerMedia’s May acquisition of the remaining interest in this entity.

Content and other revenue also decreased as a result of lower content licensing. HBO operating expenses totaled $1.5 billion, up 32.5% versus the second quarter of 2019, driven by increased programming expenses related HBO Max.

Turner revenue for the second quarter dropped 12.4% to $3 billion from $3.42 billion, driven by lower advertising revenue primarily from the postponement of the NBA season. Subscription revenue declines were also down due to lower regional sports network revenues and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

Operating expenses totaled $1.4 billion, down 37.2% from $2.23 billion last year, driven by the timing of sports costs associated primarily with the delayed NBA season.

Analyst: HBO Max, Peacock Have Highest-Rated Programming

HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock may be latecomers to the subscription video-on-demand party, but their catalog programming ranked higher in July than Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, according to new data from online media guide JustWatch.com.

From June 19 to July 20, JustWatch top movies streamed (in order) included Palm Springs, Independence Day, Greyhound, Knives Out, Ford v Ferrari, The King of Staten Island, The Old Guard, Irresistible, 1917 and Relic. Top TV shows included “Yellowstone,” “The Legend of Korra,” “Alone,” “The Alienist,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Better Call Saul,” “Schitt’s Creek,” “Mad Men,” “The Good Place” and “Perry Mason.”

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Citing July ratings from IMDb.com, JustWatch, which offers online content guides to third-party SVOD and AVOD platforms, analyzed catalog programming across the various streaming channels, which excluded original programming.

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The company said 86% of Peacock’s catalog is rated between 6 to 9 on IMDb ratings, which is runner-up to HBO Max, with 92% of its catalog receiving the same IMDb rates — but ahead of Netflix Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

When comparing each catalog’s quality, most of HBO Max’s content is rated an 8, which JustWatch clarified does not mean HBO has the most titles compared with Netflix.

HBO Max Meets Troubled Times With ‘A World of Calm’ Series

WarnerMedia’s SVOD service HBO Max has ordered the 10-episode “A World of Calm,” a TV experience that combines mesmeric imagery with narration by stars — including Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Lucy Liu, Cillian Murphy and Keanu Reeves.

HBO Max’s first project in the health and wellness space, “A World of Calm” is the result of a collaboration between the makers of Calm, the app for sleep, meditation and relaxation, and Nutopia, the team behind Nat Geo’s series “One Strange Rock.”

“A timely antidote for our modern lives, each half-hour episode takes audiences on an immersive visual journey into another world,” according to the press release.

“Building on Calm’s Sleep Stories — bedtime stories for grown-ups with more than 250 million listens — each relaxing tale is designed to transform how you feel,” the release states. “Transporting the viewer into tranquility through scientifically-engineered narratives, enchanting music and astounding footage, to naturally calm your body and soothe the mind, each story is brought to life by a different iconic voice.”

“With the considerable amount of stress and chaos we are all experiencing at this particularly challenging time, we could all use a bit of guided relaxation and ‘A World of Calm’ is here to help,” Jennifer O’Connell, EVP of non-fiction and kids programming for HBO Max, said in a statement. “With soothing imagery and tranquil narration, this is one HBO Max original that we hope becomes part of your daily routine.”

“We are thrilled to work with such amazing partners as HBO Max and Calm for this new cutting edge endeavor,” Nutopia CEO and founder Jane Root said in a statement. “Although this collaboration has been in the works for many months, this series has been entirely created during quarantine using Nutopia’s worldwide network of award-winning cinematographers and filmmakers. We hope this series of serene stories will bring a sense of much needed calm to audiences.”

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“Calm started life as a meditation app but the brand has evolved far beyond that,” Calm co-founder and co-CEO Michael Acton Smith said in a statement. “We are delighted to bring the magic behind our audio Sleep Stories to the screen for the first time.  These experiences are visual Valium and will help people relax and unwind during these stressful times.”

The series is co-produced by Calm and Nutopia with Root, Nicola Moody, Smith and Chris Advansun serving as executive producers, and Sara Brailsford and Fiona Caldwell as co-executive producers.

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HBO Max Releases New Branding Video

HBO Max July 14 launched a new brand spot showcasing the subscription streaming video platform’s expanding line-up of original content.

“We have the honor of working with some of the industry’s best creative storytellers and we are proud to provide them with a platform to share their authentic voices,” Robert Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer, said in a statement.

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Greenblatt said WarnerMedia is rolling out “unique and diverse”stories on both HBO and HBO Max, including returning “His Dark Materials” and “Search Party,” or brand new stories like “An American Pickle” and “Lovecraft Country.”

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“Our slate truly has something for everyone and we are excited to give fans even more to enjoy,” he said.

The spot highlights the upcoming premieres of “Lovecraft Country,” “The Undoing,” “The Third Day,” “How To with John Wilson,” “Industry,” “We Are Who We Are,” the fourth season of “Room 104” and the second season of “His Dark Materials”; as well as current programming. including “Perry Mason,” “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” and “I May Destroy You”; and late night favorites “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “Real Time with Bill Maher,” all of which will continue to air new episodes in the second half of 2020.

‘Dark’ Again Top Binge, Anime ‘Deca-Dence’ Top Rising Show on TV Time Charts

Netflix’s “Dark” was again the top binge while the anime series “Deca-Dence” led the shows on the rise on the TV Time charts for the week ended July 12.

The third and final season of “Dark” hit Netflix June 27. The series, repeating in the top binge spot for the third consecutive week, reaches its mind-bending conclusion, moving beyond the concept of space and time. Upon arrival in a new world, Jonas tries to make sense of what this rendition of Winden means for his own fate, while the ones left behind in the other world are left on a quest to break the loop that now not only bends time but also space.

Animation led the shows on the rise with “Deca-Dence,” an anime series licensed by Funimation for streaming that debuted July 8, topping the chart and “Close Enough,” a series from the creator of “Regular Show” that debuted July 9 on the new streaming service HBO Max, coming in at No. 2.

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TV Time is a free TV viewership tracking app that tracks consumers’ viewing habits worldwide and is visited by more than 1 million consumers every day, according to the service. The weekly “Binge Report” ranks shows with the most binge sessions. A binge session is when four or more episodes of a show are watched and tracked in the app in a given day. The “Shows on the Rise” chart is calculated by determining the week-over-week growth in episodes watched for a given program. The network displayed is the network where the show first aired (e.g. “Friends” on NBC).

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 Top Binge Shows Week Ended July 12 by Share of Binges:

  1. “Dark” (Netflix) — 3.39%
  2. “Modern Family” (ABC) — 2.55%
  3. “Cable Girls” (Netflix) — 2.15%
  4. “Warrier Nun” (Netflix) — 1.81%
  5. “Friends” (NBC) — 1.68%
  6. “The Office” (NBC) — 1.59%
  7. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC) — 1.29%
  8. “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC) — 1.23%
  9. “The 100” (The CW) — 1.19%
  10. “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix) — 1.13%

 

Top “Shows on the Rise” Week Ended July 12 by Rise Ratio:

  1. “Deca-Dence” (AT-X) — 99.5%
  2. “Close Enough” (HBO Max) — 99%
  3. “To All the Guys Who Loved Me” (KBS TV2) — 98.9%
  4. “Stateless” (ABC AU) — 95.8%
  5. “Conan” (TBS) — 92.2%
  6. “Squeezie” (YouTube) — 91.3%
  7. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC) — 87.8%
  8. “The Protector” (Netflix) — 87.8%
  9. “Breathe” (Amazon) — 87.7%
  10. “Drake and Josh” (Nickelodeon) — 85.7%

HBO Max Acquires ‘Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness’ Docu-Comedy Series

HBO Max has acquired CNN Original Series “Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness,” premiering Aug. 27 on the subscription streaming video service. The four-part buddy comedy docuseries follows actor/documentarian/philanthropist Patel (“Meet the Patels”) as he travels the world seeking answers surrounding life’s universal questions.

Both CNN and HBO Max are owned and operated by AT&T’s WarnerMedia Entertainment.

At each stop, Patel is joined by a friend or family member, with whom he shares a big conflict or question about life. He travels to Mexico with his parents to discuss retirement and aging; Japan with his wife to explore parenting and gender roles; Korea with his entrepreneur friend to confront their issues with work/life balance; Denmark with his Muslim friend to explore an immigration crisis not unlike ours here in America.

“I’m obsessed with trying new things and getting better,” Patel said in a statement. “With the world in such a crazy place right now, maybe this show is what some of us need, if anything for a laugh or two.”

Lizzie Fox, SVP of nonfiction programming at HBO Max, said Patel’s interactions and lessons learned throughout his travels will resonate with viewers, “showing that we are truly all connected and have more in common than we think.”

Patel’s documentary work began when he co-directed and starred in “Meet the Patels,” in 2014. As an actor, he’s appeared in Transformers, Netflix’s “Master of None,” SXSW’s comedy “Come As You Are,” and Seth Rogen’s Long Shot. He co-created and stars in “Bhaag Beanie Bhaag,” premiering this fall on Netflix, and will also be seen in the upcoming film Wonder Woman 1984.