HBO Max Hires Trio of Execs for Original Scripted Drama

WarnerMedia’s impending SVOD service HBO Max, scheduled to launch in spring 2020, has tapped three executives to lead original scripted drama.

Joining the drama team are Roberto Alcantara, VP of drama; Chika Chukudebelu, VP of drama; and Mark Tuohy, VP of drama. All executives report to Joey Chavez, EVP of original drama, who oversees creative development.

(L-R): Robert Alcantara, Chika Chukudebelu and Mark Tuohy

“The premium drama bar is set high, and I have no doubt this talented team will deliver and be great creative partners to great creators,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer, HBO Max, and president of TNT, TBS and truTV, said in a statement.

“We are proud to have a drama team that reflects a variety of voices, tastes and points of view,” Chavez said in a statement. “Bringing together the best people who come from studios, networks and various genres, gives us a great mix of backgrounds to tap into. It’s this collective of skills and diversity that will create the kind of signature dramas that will be unique to HBO Max.”

Alcantara most recently was VP of comedy development and programming, for FOX Entertainment, overseeing the development and production for the network’s comedy slate, including popular hits “Last Man Standing,” animated series “Bless the Harts” and talk/comedy show “What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage.”

Chukudebelu most recently was VP of development of NBCUniversal’s Universal Content Productions, where she was responsible for the development of cable and streaming television series, as well as actively engaging writing, directing and acting talent to mine potential collaboration opportunities for the boutique studio and portfolio of networks, including Peacock, USA, Netflix and Quibi.

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Tuohy recently served as VP of Creative Affairs for A+E Studios, where he developed scripted dramas including “Project Blue Book” for History and “Reprisal” for Hulu. He also worked for Fox International Channels as director of scripted entertainment, a role in which he helped develop “Outcast” for Fox International Channels and Cinemax.

The new hires join David Poynter, VP of drama, and Maura Feerick, director of drama, to comprise Chavez’s drama team.

HBO Max Secures Rights to Japan’s Studio Ghibli Movies

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s pending subscription streaming video platform, has acquired first-time streaming rights to Studio Ghibli’s movie catalog. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

The Japan-based animation studio’s titles include: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo and Castle in the Sky, among others.

“Studio Ghibli films are visually breathtaking, completely immersive experiences” Kevin Reilly, CCO of HBO Max, and president of TNT, TBS, and truTV, said in a statement. “We are proud to showcase them in an accessible way for even more fans through HBO Max.”

The studio’s animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki, have won countless international awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away, as well as four additional Academy Award nominations for Howl’s Moving CastleThe Wind RisesThe Tale of The Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There.

Director and studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki was separately given an Honorary Award at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards in 2014, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will pay tribute to his artwork with a special exhibit when the Museum opens in 2020.

Koji Hoshino, chairman of Studio Ghibli, called HBO Max the ideal “home” for its feature film content.

“Upon launch of the service this spring, existing Ghibli fans will be able enjoy their favorites and delve deeper into the library, while whole new audiences will be able to discover our films for the first time,” Hoshino said.

 

Netflix Brass Doubles Down on Indifference to Pending SVOD Competition

With Disney and Apple just weeks away from launching branded subscription streaming video services, Netflix remains defiant to the pending competition, which includes service launches from WarnerMedia (HBO Max) and NBCUniversal (Peacock) early next year.

Speaking on the company’s Oct. 16 fiscal earnings webcast, CCO Ted Sarandos walked back any apparent corporate weakness regarding comments CEO Reed Hastings made in the United Kingdom last month about a whole new world in over-the-top video awaiting come November.

“I think I got the subtlety of the brave — the whole new world Aladdin reference,” Sarandos quipped. “Everyone else took it pretty literal.”

Many on Wall Street had taken Hastings’ comment to suggest Netflix was concerned, especially after HBO Max and Peacock took away Netflix streaming rights to popular reruns of “Seinfeld” and “The Office,” respectively.

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“From when we began in [2007] streaming, Hulu and YouTube and Amazon Prime Video were all in the market,” Hastings said. “All four of us have been competing heavily, including with linear TV, for the last 12 years. So fundamentally, there’s not a big change here.”

Hastings said he found it “interesting” to see both Apple and Disney launching services in the same week after 12 years of not showing much interest in SVOD.

“I was being a little playful with a whole new world in the sense of the drama of it coming,” Hastings added. “But fundamentally, it’s more of the same, and Disney is going to be a great competitor. Apple is just beginning, but they’ll probably have some great shows, too.”

Indeed, until just recently, Disney exclusively licensed original movies and rights to create original Marvel TV series to Netflix.

The Netflix co-founder reiterated that the SVOD market remains more in competition with linear TV than within its market. He said OTT video is still a relatively small player compared to broadcast TV.

“So, just like in the [shareholder] letter … [writing about] multiple cable networks over the last 30 years not really competing with each other fundamentally but competing with broadcast TV, I think it’s the same kind of dynamic here [with streaming video],” Hastings said.

 

‘Last Week Tonight’ Host John Oliver Mocks HBO Max

British comic John Oliver has never shied away from calling out perceived hypocrisy within corporate America, social media and politics — even if it includes his network employer.

His weekly satirical look at events and newsmakers has made HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” a critical success at industry awards, including winning multiple Primetime Emmy Awards.

On the Oct. 13 broadcast, Oliver included a segment on the NBA’s political entanglement with China and issues involving pro-democracy forces in the semi-autonomous Chinese region of Hong Kong.

Specifically, the NBA has recently found itself in hot water with China after the GM of the Houston Rockets “liked” a social media tweet, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” indicating solidarity with the protestors.

In response, Chinese media announced it would not air or stream NBA games in the quasi-Communist country, and two major retailers pulled Rockets apparel from store shelves.

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Significant moves considering the NBA has business deals worth upwards of $4 billion in the Peoples Republic.

Oliver then showed a corny clip of NBA stars celebrating the Chinese New Year with the following retort: “There’s just nothing more cringeworthy  than watching someone forced to engage in promotional bullshit to appease  the whims of their parent company.”

Oliver then spun his chair 45 degrees, and with a glazed look in a monotone voice recited a PR plug for the pending subscription streaming video platform, HBO Max.

“Have you heard of HBO Max? Looking to add another app and monthly charge to watch things?,” Oliver deadpanned. “HBO Max has you covered. It’s going to have all your favorites: Reruns of ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ reruns of ‘Friends,’ reruns of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’. You can pay for all of those through HBO Max. HBO Max. It’s not HBO. It’s just TV.”

HBO Max launches in early 2020.

 

HBO Max to Create Series Based on ‘Grease’

WarnerMedia’s impending SVOD service HBO Max will produce “Grease: Rydell High,” a musical series inspired by the 1978 Golden Globe-nominated film Grease.

Set in and around the world of 1950s Rydell High, the show reimagines the hit movie with returning and new characters.

Grease is an iconic pop-culture phenomenon that works for every generation, and I’m thrilled that our friends at Paramount were excited about the idea of opening up the show and putting it on a larger canvas for a weekly series,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content of HBO Max, said in a statement. “This is high school and life in small-town USA told on the scale of a big rock ’n’ roll musical. It’s Grease 2.0 but with the same spirit, energy, and excitement you immediately think of when you hear any of these iconic songs.”

Grease is one of the most beloved Paramount titles and it’s a thrill to be re-imagining it for today’s audience with our good friends at Temple Hill and Picturestart,” said Nicole Clemens, president of Paramount Television, in a statement. “When Bob Greenblatt called about bringing it to television, we knew we would be in the perfect hands because of our great working relationship with HBO Max and Bob’s genuine passion for musicals and Grease in particular.”

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Picturestart and Temple Hill will serve as executive producers and Paramount Television and Picturestart will produce the series. Additionally, Temple Hill, Picturestart and Paramount Pictures are in development on a feature film prequel to Grease, titled Summer Lovin’.

HBO Max Orders Unscripted Kids Competition Shows

WarnerMedia’s pending subscription video service, HBO Max, has ordered eight episodes each of two unscripted kids competition series, “Karma” and “Craftopia.

Michelle Khare

“Karma”will be hosted by Michelle Khare, an extreme lifestyle enthusiast with almost 2 million followers on YouTube, and half-hour series “Craftopia,” hosted by Lauren Riihimakia.k.a. LaurDIYone of YouTube’s top creators with over 21 million followers across all her social platforms.

Both social media personalities are known for inspiring their followers to think creatively and follow their dreams, according to HBO.

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“We are giving kids an opportunity to show us their absolute best as they strive for excellence in both challenging and creative situations,” Jennifer O’Connell, EVP, original content, HBO Max, said in a statement.

“Karma” takes 16 contestants, ranging in age from 12 to 15, completely off the grid to solve puzzles and overcome physical challenges, with the laws of karma setting the rules.

Lauren Riihimaki

In “Craftopia,” contestants aged from nine to 15-years-old put their imaginations to work making creations from materials acquired at the studio “store.” Production will begin later this year.

“Kids are so incredibly inventive,” said Rhett Bachner and Brien Meagher, executive producers of ‘Craftopia.'” “They look at an empty cardboard box and a paper towel roll and see a pirate ship with a telescope.”

HBO Max launches in early 2020.

HBO Max Expands Executive Team

AT&T’s pending subscription streaming service HBO Max Oct. 2 added several executives to its ranks.

The service, which is set to launch in Spring 2020, named Billy Wee SVP of original animation, and Nikki Reed VP of kids and family scripted originals.

Billy Wee

Wee comes from WarnerMedia’s TBS, where he was VP of original programming, and Reed hails from Viacom’s Nickelodeon, where she was VP of original series development.

“The kids and family space has a long history at WarnerMedia, from our legendary animation to classic motion pictures, and is now an essential part of HBO Max,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer of HBO Max, and president of TNT, TBS and truTV, said in a statement. “We now have a top-notch team to create a slate of original content appealing to kids, tweens, young adults and the whole family.”

Nikki Reed

Separately, Max added Sarah Lyons as SVP of product experience. She previously worked for AT&T’s DirecTV unit as VP of OTT media products.

WarnerMedia executive Katie Soo, was named SVP of growth marketing, while Keith Camoosa, was named SVP of data insights and operations.

DirecTV Now’s Jess Miller was named VP of project management, while former Crunchroll executive Reid DeRamus was named senior director of business operations.

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Meanwhile, Sean Kisker, transitions to EVP and chief strategy officer for Otter Media and WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer. He will work with Josh Walker, chief strategy officer and EVP of financial planning, WarnerMedia Entertainment.

“We have gathered an all-star team of executives whose innovative contributions have directly advanced the digital media industry,” said Tony Goncalves, CEO of Otter Media.

 

HBO Max Inks Ellen DeGeneres

WarnerMedia continues to spend big securing talent for its pending HBO Max subscription streaming video platform.

The former Time Warner company has signed daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to a four-year production deal for a variety of programming projects.

Shows include DeGeneres’ take on dating, a home design challenge competition, and herself as a seven-year-old girl, among other topics. Another series, “Finding Einstein,” is in development.

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“Ellen is a singular talent, and a powerhouse, creative triple-threat that we are lucky to have now bringing her talents to bear on behalf of HBO Max,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer, HBO Max and president, TNT, TBS, and truTV, said in a statement. “Ellen’s flair for home design and matchmaking will most certainly inspire and delight – but HBO Max is full service, so as not to leave the kids out she’s bringing them back to the hilarious misadventures of her childhood in an imaginative animated series.”

Max, which launches early next year at an undisclosed price, has been on a tear recently hiring executives to further its nonfiction projects. The service also signed up exclusive streaming rights to “The Big Bang Theory”.

And earlier this month after months of entertaining bids from all the big SVOD players, including Netflix, Apple TV and Comcast, among others, “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” director J.J. Abrams opted to stay with Warner Bros. in an exclusive production deal reportedly worth upwards of $500 million.

HBO Max Adds Nonfiction Executives

HBO Max, the pending subscription streaming video service from WarnerMedia, Sept. 23 announced the hiring of three senior executives to its nonfiction content production team.

Max named Lizzie Fox, SVP of nonfiction programming, and Rebecca Quinn, VP of nonfiction programming. Brett Boydstun was hired as SVP of nonfiction programming as well.

“Nonfiction storytelling will be a crucial component to HBO Max and we now have the leadership and team in place to bring the best this genre has to offer to our offering,” Keven Reilly, chief content officer at Max, said in a statement.

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Fox and Quinn report to Jennifer O’Connell, EVP, original nonfiction and kids programming. Boydstun reports to Mark Weissman, SVP, production.

“As a multi-Emmy winner, Lizzie has a reputation for producing a list of critically-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries and non-fiction series,” O’Connell said. “Rebecca has a proven track record of creating and producing internationally renowned formats and franchises. I’m so fortunate to have this killer team to help build up the HBO Max non-fiction slate with our producing partners.”

Fox comes to HBO Max from CNN; where she managed more than 40 original nonfiction series, including “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell,” “This Is Life With Lisa Ling,” “The Sixties,” “The Seventies,” “The Eighties” and “The Nineties.”

Quinn previously headed development for  number of pilots, net work series at Lionsgate, including “Kicking and Screaming,” “Candy Crush” and “Kavin Hart: What the Fit.”

Boydstun most-recently was EVP, head of production for Karga Seven Pictures, working on “JFK: Declassified,” “Hunting Hitler” and “The Hunt for the Zodiak Killer,” among others.

 

Parks: SVOD Accounts for 86% of Consumer Online Movie, TV Spending

New research from Parks Associates finds that subscriptions, formerly representing just over half of total online video spending in 2012, now account for nearly 86% of all internet spending on TV and movies.

The Dallas-based research follows analysis of market trends and profiles of OTT video service providers in the U.S. and Canada, including Netflix, HBO, YouTube, and Amazon as well as new services Disney+, HBO Max, and Frndly TV.

“The new services launching over the next several months are taking different approaches as they enter a crowded OTT market,” said Brett Sappington, senior research director and principal analyst. “While the U.S. market is important for Disney, the company will ultimately measure the success of its Disney+ service on a global scale.”

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Sappington believes AT&T sees its formerly branded DirecTV Now (now AT&T TV) service as the evolution of its core pay-TV business rather than as an extension of its vMVPD efforts.

The Frndly TV is a niche play Sappington says is targeting a specific group of consumers with a low price and family-friendly content.

Parks says the new services, including Apple TV+, will drive consumers to increase spending on internet video and maximize the proportion of spending on subscriptions. The increasing number of new services will also test consumers’ tolerance for adding new accounts to their monthly expenditures.

“The amount of money consumers spend per month will spike, at least in the short term, as new services such as Disney+ and Apple TV+ become available. Tradeoff decisions will come later,” Sappington said. “To keep consumers spending at this higher level, services will have to consistently deliver volumes of compelling content within an engaging user experience.”