John Stankey: Live Sports Could Play Limited Role in HBO Max AVOD Rollout

With HBO Max looking to expand its presence in Latina America and Western Europe in 2021, WarnerMedia’s subscription streaming VOD platform will also tackle an ad-supported option going forward — that could include live sports.

Speaking on the AT&T fiscal call, CEO John Stankey addressed a host of questions on Max and its relation to the existing pay-TV ecosystem, and its main draw: live sports. WarnerMedia’s TNT networks has major distribution agreements with the NBA, Major League Baseball and NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament.

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Stankey said that live sports will remain a unique pillar of pay-TV, which he contends will be the distribution channel’s key advantage when  cord-cutting reduces the pay-TV household footprint to around 50 – 60 million in the coming years.

“Sports content is important to our linear business, our cable networks business to make sure we have enough of it that sustains that business and keeps it at attractive must-have offering, an offering that our customers want to have in that cable bundle,” Stankey said.

At the same time, AT&T’s online TV  platform, AT&T TV, and Max aim to push WarnerMedia content beyond premium television. And live sports could be part of the mix — as professional soccer, cycling is doing in Europe. Stankey said the concept of adding live sports to streaming video distribution is appealing.

“You’ll probably see as we move through AVOD, maybe we do some additional live work that we have coming forward,” he said.

But Stankey cautioned that any move would be complimentary to pay-TV and not involve growing the company’s sports footprint to include additional leagues beyond e-sports and gaming. WarnerMedia recently launched “TNT Bets,” an online companion show available through the TNT app that features live-streamed feed of the games, commentary on betting analysis and odds.

ELEAGUE, the interactive gaming show that airs on is airs on TBS, just partnered with Amazon’s Twitch for “Super Punch,” an interactive show where fans can discuss the most relevant gaming topics of the day and week.

“Our goal is not to become known as the sports company,” Stankey said. “I don’t see going deeper in sports is the direction for WarnerMedia.”

HBO Max Touts 8.6 Million Q3 Activations; 38 Million U.S. Subs Total

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s high-profile subscription streaming video platform, Oct. 22 reported 8.6 million subscriber activations in the third quarter, ended Sept. 30. The SVOD had 4.1 million activations after its first month of service following the May 27 launch. Activations are classified as HBO pay-TV subscribers and non-subs who sign up separately for Max with a “valid payment” method.

Max and HBO totaled 38 million combined subs when factoring in existing HBO subs able to access Max (for free) via third-party pay-TV operators. They had 36.2 million combined subs on July 23, exceeding a year-end goal of 36 million. Domestic HBO and Max subscribers do not include customers that are part of a free trial.

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Worldwide HBO/Max subs consist of domestic and international HBO subscribers and domestic Max subs and excludes Cinemax subs. AT&T management says Max consumer engagement is 60% higher than for SVOD predecessor HBO Now.

“We continue to grow and scale HBO Max, with total domestic HBO and Max subscribers…well ahead of our expectations for the full year,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said in a statement. AT&T has spent $2 billion on the launch of Max.

While Stankey put a positive spin on subscriber growth, the activation figure underscores Max’s ongoing struggles to capture consumers — without distribution agreements with Roku and Amazon. To compare, Max’s new sub additions were only about twice that of Netflix’s sluggish Q3 additions, which ended the quarter with 195 million paid subs.

Warner to Release ‘Doom Patrol’ Season Two on Blu-ray, DVD Jan. 26

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Doom Patrol: The Complete Second Season on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Jan. 26.

The original series from the DC Universe streaming service features a strange group of superheroes who received powers and special abilities through tragic circumstances and are brought together by a man in a wheelchair called The Chief (Timothy Dalton). In the second season, they must confront their own personal baggage while coming together to protect The Chief’s daughter, whose mysterious powers could be used to threaten the world.

The cast includes Diane Guerrero, April Bowlby, Joivan Wade, Matt Bomer and Brendan Fraser.

The season two Blu-ray and DVD include all nine episodes plus the featurette “The Transformers: Doom Patrol’s Make-up FX” and a “Doom Patrol – Come Visit Georgia” PSA.

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Based on the characters from DC’s Doom Patrol comic book, the is produced by Berlanti Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television. The second season was presented jointly by DC Universe and HBO Max, and with DC Universe moving away from original content, the upcoming third season will debut exclusively on HBO Max.

Ampere: Peacock and HBO Max Appealing to Different Audiences

NBCUniversal’s Peacock subscription streaming video service topped 15 million app subs, while WarnerMedia’s HBO Max surpassed 4.1 million in their respective first month of operation. New data from Ampere Analysis contends consumer response to the two platforms has been positive.

The London-based research firm, citing a survey of 4,000 online respondents in the U.S., found 8% of domestic Internet homes had Max subscriptions, while 7% were using Peacock. Age seems to be a factor among app subscribers.

“Peacock’s early adopters show that it has been successful in converting broadcast channel audiences — who are an older demographic and typically more difficult to convert — into SVOD subscribers, allowing it to play in an arena that is generally less competitive,” senior analyst Annabel Yeomans said in a statement.

 

Indeed, Max subscribers are 50% more likely to be in the 25-to-44 year-old age group, which is identical to the current HBO pay-TV sub. In addition, Max’s $14.99 monthly price makes it the most expensive SVOD service on the market — thus attracting 69% of households with incomes of $51,000 or more.

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Meanwhile, Peacock is appealing slightly older subs (35 to 44), with broadcast programming targeting older viewers, according to Ampere. The report contends 19% of Peacock’s viewers are over 55, compared to 6% of Max viewers. And 54% of Peacock households have total incomes of $51,000 or more.

Peacock, unlike other major SVOD platforms, has a free ad-supported option.

Regardless, content remains king and Yeomans said Max has yet to diversify its audience away from the hardcore HBO pay-TV channel known for high-end drama, comedy and documentaries.

“Nonetheless this is an already-crowded market with strong competitors like, so while increasing the diversity of catalogs and quality of original content will be key to driving scale, playing to each services’ brand and audience strengths should also not be forgotten,” she said.

Disney+ Expands Disclaimers for Racially Problematic Movies

Disney+ has quietly beefed up its warnings on select classic movies that may feature content that could be interpreted as racially insensitive. Movies reportedly affected include Dumbo, Peter Pan, Fantasia and Lady and the Tramp. A 10-second warning placed in front of the film states it features racial depictions that were inappropriate when the movie first debuted, and are inappropriate today.

 

 

 

 

The disclaimer is also part of the film’s profile page and encourages viewers to visit a link outlining how movies can showcase popular culture and how society sees itself in a given moment in time. The “Stories Matter” link includes a PSA and video clip featuring statements by Geena Davis, Gil Robertson, Gloria Calderón Kellett and Cristela Alonzo stressing the importance of diversity and inclusion in the media and society.

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Disney had been including disclaimers that older movies might contain “outdated cultural depictions” since it launched in November 2019. The addition of the warnings to the films themselves mirrors efforts by HBO Max over the summer to remove Oscar-winning classic Gone With the Wind from the SVOD platform. The movie was returned to Max with a disclaimer that it “denies the horrors of slavery.”

Disney’s infamous 1946 musical classic Song of the South is not available on the subscription streaming platform due to racial stereotypes and criticisms over its depictions of former slaves.

HBO Max to Exclusively Stream British Dramedy ‘I Hate Suzie’

HBO Max Oct. 9 announced it has secured the rights to exclusively stream the British dramedy “I Hate Suzie” in the United States. The series follows an actress whose life is thrown into turmoil when her phone is hacked and extremely compromising photographs of her are leaked.

The series is co-created by BAFTA nominee Billie Piper (“Collateral,” “Doctor Who”), who also leads the cast, and by Emmy winner and critically acclaimed writer of the series Lucy Prebble (“Succession”).

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The eight-part series shows Suzie Pickles (Piper) unraveling as the event ricochets around every area of her life. Episode by episode, we follow her through the stages of shock, denial, fear, shame, bargaining, guilt, anger and acceptance as Pickles and her best friend and manager Naomi, played by Leila Farzad (InnocentTwenty Twelve), try to hold her life, career and marriage together.

The cast also includes Daniel Ings (“Lovesick,” “The Crown”) and Nathaniel Martello-White (“Collateral,” “Guerilla”).

The series was originally commissioned by Sky Studios for Sky in the U.K., the series is co-created, and executive produced by Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper. International Distribution was handled by NBCUniversal Global Distribution on behalf of Sky Studios.

WarnerMedia Planning to Cut Workforce Upwards of 20%

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar is continuing to clean house since being hired earlier this year by AT&T CEO John Stankey to run the former Time Warner entity. Kilar, who formerly headed Hulu, reportedly is seeking additional entertainment cuts approaching 20% of the company’s workforce since eliminating 500 positions in August. Those layoffs included Ron Sanders, president of Warner Bros. worldwide theatrical distribution and president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Cuts in the coming weeks are expected at Warner Bros., HBO, TBS and TNT.

“Like the rest of the entertainment industry, we have not been immune to the significant impact of the pandemic,” a WarnerMedia spokesman told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the restructuring. “We are in the midst of that process and it will involve increased investments in priority areas and, unfortunately, reductions in others.”

WarnerMedia reportedly had 26,000 employees when it was Time Warner. With the entertainment sector in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and studio and TV production in slow motion, WarnerMedia is putting much of its resources into HBO Max, the recently-launched SVOD and pending AVOD platform.

Max had about 4.1 million people activate the app in the first month since launching on May 27. When combined with a negotiations impasse with Roku regarding placement of the Max app on the streaming media manufacturer’s platform, the SVOD and pending AVOD platform significantly lags behind rivals Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

In addition, Warner Bros. continues to push back theatrical releases to 2021, including most recently sci-fi reboot Dune, from December to next year. Robert Pattinson starrer The Batman has been bumped from 2021 to 2022. Patty Jenkins sequel Wonder Woman 1984 has been bumped three times to the current Dec. 25 release.

“There’s nothing that’s sacred anywhere in the business,” Stankey told The Journal earlier this year. “WarnerMedia is no exception to that.”

‘The Power of We: A Sesame Street Special’ Addressing Racism to Stream on HBO Max, PBS Kids Oct. 15

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind “Sesame Street,” will address racism — and model how children can stand up to it — in The Power of We: A Sesame Street Special to stream on HBO Max and PBS Kids starting Oct. 15.

Designed as a co-viewing experience for children and families, the special will also debut on PBS stations the same day and will re-air throughout October and November on PBS stations and the PBS Kids 24/7 channel.

“‘Sesame Street’ has the ability to entertain children while explaining complex issues like no other program and equips families and caregivers with the support they need to have empathetic conversations,” Kay Wilson Stallings, EVP of creative and production at Sesame Workshop, said in a statement. “We believe that this moment calls for a direct discussion about racism to help children grasp the issues and teach them that they are never too young to be ‘upstanders’ for themselves, one another, and their communities.”

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The Power of We features Elmo and Abby Cadabby, who are joined by 6-year-old Muppet Gabrielle and her cousin, 8-year-old Tamir, as they learn how to become “upstanders” to unfair treatment based on skin — or fur — color. Current and former “Sesame Street” human cast members Alan, Charlie, Chris, and Gordon take part in the special alongside celebrity and musical guests Yara Shahidi, Christopher Jackson and Andra Day. The Power of We includes two new songs, “How Do You Know?” and “Listen, Act, Unite!,” the latter written and performed by Jackson and featuring Day.

Sesame Workshop has also created a companion guide for families and caregivers to use as they discuss the special with children, available at SesameStreet.org/PowerofWe.

Chelsea Handler Stand-Up Special to Stream on HBO Max Oct. 22

Chelsea Handler makes a return to stand-up comedy after a six-year hiatus with HBO Max’s Chelsea Handler: Evolution debuting on the streamer Oct. 22.

During the hourlong special, Handler will share experiences about her family, friendships, and her first foray into therapy — where she unearthed why everyone on this planet annoys her so much. Handler reflects on her personal journey toward self-awareness, assisted by her reliable companion — cannabis.

A six-time No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, Handler filmed the special this summer from her home state of New Jersey on the heels of her most recent bestselling memoir, Life Will Be the Death of MeThe special was filmed in front of a live audience following social distancing and safety protocols.

Netflix streamed its first talk show in 2015 with Chelsea Handler, which lasted two seasons.

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Warner Bros. Ditches U.S. Theaters to Premiere ‘Roald Dahl’s The Witches’ Exclusively on HBO Max

In another blow to domestic theaters, Warner Bros. Pictures will release director Robert Zemeckis’s reimagined Roald Dahl’s The Witches on HBO Max in the United States, starting Oct. 22. The film is scheduled to launch in movie theaters internationally on Oct. 28. Zemeckis’ movies include Forrest Gump, The Polar Express and the “Back to the Future” franchise.

Zemeckis is joined by filmmakers including Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Kenya Barris for this fantasy adventure about a young boy who stumbles upon a secret coven of witches and, with the help of his loving grandmother, tries to stop their evil plan to turn the world’s children into mice. The cast includes Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Chenoweth and Chris Rock, with newcomer Jahzir Kadeen Bruno as the brave young hero.

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The Witches is a wonderful reimagining of Roald Dahl’s timeless tale that combines world-class filmmaking with fantastic performances. It’s fun for the whole family and ideal for this time of year,” Toby Emmerich, chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said in a statement.

“This film, with its stellar cast, is outstanding,” added Casey Bloys, chief content officer for HBO and HBO Max. “We are thrilled to be able to use our platform to deliver timely, relevant and engaging new content during this time when the theatrical experience is not available to everyone.”

The film will also be featured in HBO Max’s “Halloween is Here” spotlight page, alongside a curated roster of more than 140 movies, series and Halloween-themed TV episodes, hand-picked by HBO Max’s dedicated editorial team.