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.”

Warner Announces October 2020 HBO Sellthrough Releases

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has announced its slate of digital sellthrough releases of HBO titles for October 2020.

Due Oct. 5 is the sports documentary Women of Troy, about the USC women’s basketball team of the 1980s. Directed by Alison Ellwood and produced by Gary Cohen of Triple Threat TV, the film explores how the Cheryl Miller-led Trojans changed women’s basketball forever with their up-tempo style and superior athleticism en route to winning consecutive national championships, and ultimately influencing the establishment of the WNBA.

Arriving Oct. 10 is Room 104: Season 4. Set in a single room of a typical American chain motel, this anthology series tells different stories of the assorted characters who pass through it. From creators and executive producers Mark and Jay Duplass, episodes range from comedy to drama to horror.

Coastal Elites arrives Oct. 12. Produced entirely under quarantine, this special presentation from Paul Rudnick and Jay Roach stars Bette Midler, Kaitlyn Dever, Dan Levy, Sarah Paulson and Issa Rae playing characters from New York to Los Angeles coping with politics and the pandemic. The comedic satire tells contemporary stories of breaking down and breaking through that are funny, searing and poignant.

Due Oct. 19 is Lovecraft Country. Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, the drama series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father, Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters described in an H.P. Lovecraft paperback.

Arriving Oct. 20 is The Third Day. Told over the first three episodes, “Summer” stars Jude Law as Sam, a man who is drawn to a mysterious Island off the British coast where he encounters a group of islanders set on preserving their traditions at any cost. “Winter” unfolds over the latter three episodes and stars Naomie Harris as Helen, a strong-willed outsider who comes to the island seeking answers, but whose arrival precipitates a fractious battle to decide its fate.

Coming Oct. 30 is Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children, a five-part documentary series offering an unprecedented look at the abduction and murder of at least 30 African-American children and young adults in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. With the official re-opening of the case by Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms 40 years later, the series tells the inside story of this tragedy, shedding new light on the killings through interviews with those closest to the children and the investigation, as well as exclusive archival material.

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HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ Due on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Dec. 1

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the HBO miniseries Chernobyl on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Dec. 1. A limited-edition Steelbook edition will be available the same day exclusively at Best Buy.

The five-part series that dramatizes the explosion at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 that spewed a cloud of radioactive gas over Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Jared Harris portrays Valery Legasov, a leading Soviet nuclear physicist who was one of the first to grasp the scope of the unparalleled disaster that occurred. Stellan Skarsgård plays Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, who is assigned by the Kremlin to lead the government commission on Chernobyl in the hours immediately following the accident. Emily Watson portrays Ulana Khomyuk, a composite character representing Soviet scientists investigating the disaster.

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Best Buy’s ‘Chernobyl’ Steelbook

Chernobyl won two Golden Globe Awards and 10 Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Limited Series in 2019.

The 4K Ultra HD combo pack will include the five episodes on both a 4K disc and a regular Blu-ray disc, and will include a digital copy of the miniseries. The Best Buy Steelbook packaging features artwork inspired by the Edvard Munch painting The Scream.

Extras, which are not available in 4K, include “Inside the Episode” featurettes, plus “Meet the Key Players,” “Behind the Curtain: Director Johan Renck,” “Script to Screen: The Divers” and “Pivotal Moment: The Trial.”

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HBO’s ‘Perry Mason’ on Blu-ray and DVD Dec. 1

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the first season of HBO’s “Perry Mason” remake on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Dec. 1 (order date Oct. 27). The show is available now on HBO Max and for digital sellthrough.

The series stars Matthew Rhys as the title character from the series of books by Erle Stanley Gardner.

The show takes place in Los Angeles in 1932 and chronicles Mason’s involvement as a private investigator on a case involving a murdered child, detailing how he became a lawyer. The series is essentially a prequel to the books, in which Mason is a legendary attorney. The first of 82 Mason books, The Case of the Velvet Claws, was released in 1933.

The cast also includes Juliet Rylance, Chris Chalk, Shea Whigham, Tatiana Maslany, John Lithgow, Stephen Root, Gayle Rankin, Nate Corddry, Veronica Falcón, Jefferson Mays, Lili Taylor, Andrew Howard, Eric Lange and Robert Patrick.

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Executive Producers are Robert Downey Jr., Susan Downey, Amanda Burrell, Ron Fitzgerald, Joe Horacek, Rolin Jones and Tim Van Patten (who also directs).

Perry Mason: The Complete First Season includes all eight episodes, plus the featurettes “The Characters of Perry Mason” and “Under the Fedora,” and Robert Downey Jr. conversations with Matthew Rhys and Susan Downey.

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WarnerMedia Launches Voter Engagement Platform

Seeking to make voting in the upcoming presidential election as easy as possible for employees and viewers, WarnerMedia Sept. 22 announced the launch of a nonpartisan voter engagement resource center, aimed at providing the tools necessary to take part in the Nov. 3 election. The center provides access to the company’s civic engagement efforts, including voter registration support, programming and key partnerships.

The AT&T unit, which includes Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, is encouraging registered voters to pledge to vote as well as enlist their friends, families and colleagues to do the same. To help make that a reality, WarnerMedia is collaborating with Rock the VoteVoto LatinoWhen We All VoteNAACP Legal Defense FundShe Se Puede and Color of Change.

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The move comes as the politically divided country prepares for the Nov. 3 election day, with allegations of voter suppression efforts in some parts of the country.

“In today’s climate, it is more important than ever to be prepared with a voting plan, make sure you are registered to vote, and know your state’s absentee ballot rules and regulations,” Dennis Williams, SVP of corporate social responsibility at WarnerMedia, said in a statement.

Williams said the media giant is coordinating its online voter engagement hub, programming and collaborations with third party organizations, to encourage all “our fans and employees around the country to engage in the democratic process and ensure their vote is counted.”

WarnerMedia’s brands featuring civic-minded programming and information include “Citizen by CNN,” the network’s civic engagement platform introducing tools that aim to connect users to personalized, local information about candidates, voting and issues. The tool will help users discover local information on where/how to vote, allow them to stay up to date on important changes to voting information, and empower them to get information to feel confident casting their ballot.

WarnerMedia is also helping make sure everyone is counted in the 2020 United States Census. Young children are missed in the census for a multitude of reasons, but confusion about who goes on the form is a major one. Nearly 40% of children under five live in complex households, where they may split time between homes, be cared for by foster parents, grandparents, or other relatives, or their caregivers may be housing-insecure. Uncertainty about who counts on the census questionnaire is only magnified if the child lives in a linguistically isolated household.

“Through a bilingual kit developed on ‘Sesame Street,’ we’re striving to close this gap,” Williams said.

WarnerMedia also has a series of related programming lined up with the goal being to increase participation in the election. A few of the productions include:A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote”; “On The Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries”; “Siempre, Luis”; “Stockton on My Mind”; “John Lewis: Good Trouble”; and “American Utopia.”

“‘When We All Vote’ is on a mission to change the culture around voting, which means we have to reach people where they are,” Crystal Carson, VP of culture, communications and media partnerships for When We All Vote, said in a statement. “That’s why we are proud to collaborate with WarnerMedia to encourage eligible voters to register and make a plan to cast their ballot this election.”

Carolyn Dewitt, executive director of Rock the Vote, said working with WarnerMedia has help empower the media company’s employees and audiences with information and resources needed to make their voices heard in the 2020 election.

“WarnerMedia understands the power of its platform to reach millions of eligible voters and takes that responsibility seriously by creating a culture of civic engagement for all WarnerMedia family,” DeWitt said.

HBO Tops Netflix for 2020 Emmy Award Wins With 30, Led by ‘Watchmen’

Netflix entered the virtual 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards Sept. 20 with 160 nominations compared to 107 noms for HBO. In the end, the pay-TV/SVOD brand emerged victorious in the annual two-race contest, scoring 30 Emmys, led by dystopian thriller “Watchmen” with 11 trophies, including best limited series and best actress in a limited series (Regina King). HBO’s haul included 19 wins in the Creative Emmys held through Sept. 19 — a tally rivaled by Netflix, which ended Sunday evening with 21 total Emmys.

Julia Gardner picked up an Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama for Netflix’s “Ozark,” while Maria Shrader won best director for a limited series for “Unorthodox.” Meanwhile actress Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) made Emmy history as the youngest-ever winner (best actress in a drama) for HBO’s “Euphoria” — which won three awards total.

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HBO’s “Succession” won best drama series award and best actor in a drama with Jeremy Strong, among other seven total Emmy wins. Apple TV+ scored its first Primetime Emmy with Billy Crudup winning best supporting actor in a drama for “The Morning Show.”

Amazon Prime Video was shut out of the Primetime Emmys, while winning four Creative Emmys for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The streamer won 15 Emmys in 2019 led by “Maisel” and “Fleabag.”

Finally, Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek” won nine Emmys, while Disney+’s breakout hit, “The Mandalorian,” won seven awards. Other multiple winners included HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” with four Emmys, including best variety talk series; NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” with six wins, and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” with six Emmys, including best competition series.

HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ Dominates 2020 TCA Awards

HBO, spearheaded by the original limited series “Watchmen,” led the 36th annual Television Critics Association (TCA) Awards, winning six overall awards in the showcase honoring the best programs and performances from the 2019-20 TV season. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the TCA Awards were held virtually.

HBO doubled its win total from 2019 as the network was driven by “Watchmen,” which captured four awards, including an Individual Achievement In Drama honor for series star Regina King; Outstanding Movie, Miniseries, or Special; Outstanding New Program; and the Program of the Year award, for taking the established mythos of the Watchmen graphic novel with a story that paid homage to the original source. HBO also scored victories with the media dynasty tale “Succession,” which won the award for Outstanding Achievement In Drama, and first-year comedy series “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” which earned Outstanding Achievement In Sketch/Variety Show.

The winners were determined by votes cast by the TCA’s network of more than 250 TV critics and journalists in the United States and Canada. The 2020 TCA Awards put the spotlight on a diverse lineup of stars and series across 13 categories, including Program of the Year, Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming, Individual Achievement in Drama, Outstanding Achievement in News & Information, Outstanding Achievement in Sketch/Variety Shows, and Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming, as well as the prestigious Heritage Award and Career Achievement Award, among others.

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Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek” earned awards for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy and Individual Achievement in Comedy for Catherine O’Hara. ESPN’s Michael Jordan-focused docuseries The Last Dance hoisted the trophy for Outstanding Achievement in News and Information; Netflix’s college pep squad profile “Cheer” landed Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming; and PBS Kids’ Peabody Award-winning animated series “Molly Of Denali” added Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming to its growing collection of accolades.

Additionally, TCA awarded the Heritage Award to Gene Roddenberry’s landmark 1966 sci-fi epic “Star Trek,” in recognition of the groundbreaking series which brought the future to life — illustrating a vision that is equal parts hopeful and cautious as it explored issues such as bigotry, religion, politics, sexism, and human rights through stories of love, war, intrigue, and adventure in outer space — with the help of a strong cast that was among the first to feature an African-American in a significant leading role.

The TCA also presented television veteran Alex Trebek with the Career Achievement Award, honoring the seven-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Game Show Host, Guinness World Record-holder, Hollywood and Canadian Walk Of Fame recipient, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Broadcasting Hall Of Fame inductee, philanthropist, and long-time host of the Peabody Award-winning game show “Jeopardy!” for his unparalleled legacy as one of television’s most enduring personalities.

“Entertainment and culture are intertwined and in this challenging year, never has that intersection been more crucial as both a mirror to examine tough reflections and a rabbit hole to escape the noise and scares outside our homes,” Sarah Rodman, TCA President and executive editor at Entertainment Weekly, said in a statement, adding the 2019-20 television season was both a “challenge and a balm.”

“We are excited to see what the future of television has in store, and we look forward to celebrating in-person next year as we come together to honor this medium that means so much to all of us,” she said.

2020 TCA Award recipients included:

  • Individual Achievement In Drama: Regina King (Watchmen, HBO)
  • Individual Achievement In Comedy: Catherine O’Hara (Schitt’s Creek, Pop TV)
  • Outstanding Achievement In News and Information: The Last Dance (ESPN)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Reality Programming: Cheer (Netflix)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Youth Programming: Molly of Denali (PBS Kids)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Sketch/Variety Shows: A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO)
  • Outstanding New Program: Watchmen (HBO)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Movie, Miniseries, Or Special: Watchmen (HBO)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Drama: Succession (HBO)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Comedy: Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV)
  • Program of the Year: Watchmen (HBO)
  • Career Achievement Honoree: Alex Trebek
  • Heritage Award: Star Trek (CBS)

HBO Max Bows VR Events for New ‘Lovecraft Country’ Series

To promote new original series “Lovecraft Country,” HBO Sept. 1 announced it is launching a series of virtual reality (VR) companion events, dubbed “Lovecraft Country: Sanctum.” The promotions transporting fans into a virtual world inspired by the show. The series, which launched Aug. 16, airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.

“Lovecraft Country” is a horror drama television series set in 1950s Jim Crow America developed by Misha Green based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. It stars Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors, among others, and is executive produced by J.J Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, “Westworld”) and Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us).

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The VR events, which begin Sept. 3, will enable selected users to experience three events consisting of immersive theater, escape rooms, art installations, puzzles and a live concert, via the Oculus Quest headset, all inspired by the series. The events will be simultaneously run on the social platform VRChat, which allows participants to talk and interact with each other in real time within the environment, and streamed via YouTube Live.

“We were very inspired by the deeply layered and dynamic world Misha Green has brought to life in [the series] and wanted to create a digital experience for fans that is just as innovative,” Dana Flax, VP of program marketing at HBO, said in a statement.

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Flax said much of the TV show is rooted in the idea of travel as a catalyst for self-discovery. And the VR experience provides a way for fans of the show to come together virtually and safely in a unique new place and experience incredible performances that further explore themes and ideas from the show.

“These virtual events also give us the special opportunity of spotlighting the work of black artists in celebration of this very important series,” Flax said.

VR participants will experience voiceover performances by series’ Majors, Courtney B. Vance and Michael Kenneth Williams; afrofuturist art installations by David Alabo, Devan Shimoyama and Adeyemi Adegbesan; a theatrical performance inspired by the words of James Baldwin, adapted by series writer Shannon Houston, and performed by Jurnee Smollett; and an exclusive VR concert given by a soon to be announced artist.

Sanctum was developed in partnership with HBO by creative production partner and experience studio The Mill, whose team of artists, coders and strategists developed the experience during global lockdown, in close collaboration with HBO’s marketing team.

“We created Sanctum as a space to expand the possibilities of what the future of theatre, games, art installations, concerts, and live events can be, said Rama Allen, executive creative director at The Mill and lead creative on the Sanctum experience.

Allen said the promotion seeks to create a space in partnership with black artists and voices that centers on the black experience.

“We chose social VR because it is the most transportive medium to lift us from the isolation of quarantine, to coexist in a rarefied location,” he said. “This technology can erase geography to bring us together.”

‘Lovecraft Country’ Top Rising Show, ‘Lucifer’ Top Binge on TV Time Charts

HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” was the top rising show, while Netflix’s “Lucifer” was the top binge on the TV Time charts for the week ended Aug. 23.

The horror drama series “Lovecraft Country,” a Jordan Peele/J.J. Abrams collaboration based on the 2016 novel, debuted Aug. 16. In the series, Atticus Black joins his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father.

Season five of top binge “Lucifer” hit Netflix Aug. 21. The fantasy series, which follows Lucifer’s exploits on Earth, also took the No. 2 spot on the “Shows on the Rise” chart.

No. 3 rising show “Teenage Bounty Hunters,” which debuted on Netflix Aug. 14, follows 16-year-old fraternal twin sisters Sterling and Blair. Rebelling against their buttoned-up Southern community, they team up with veteran bounty hunter Bowser Jenkins and dive into the world of bail-skipping baddies and suburban secrets while trying to navigate high school drama.

“The Umbrella Academy,” the second season of which hit screens July 31, dropped to No. 2 on the binge chart after three weeks at No. 1. The series, based on the comic books of the same name, follows a group of superheroes adopted at birth by a mysterious billionaire who face the end of the world. As season two begins, the time jump scatters the siblings in time in and around Dallas over a three-year period starting in 1960.

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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 Aug. 23 by Share of Binges:

  1. “Lucifer” (Netflix) — 9.31%
  2. “The Umbrella Academy” (Netflix) — 3.39%
  3. “Modern Family” (ABC) — 2.15%
  4. “The Office” U.S. (NBC) — 1.39%
  5. “Friends” (NBC) — 1.37%
  6. “One Piece” (Fuji TV) — 1.21%
  7. “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC) — 1.18%
  8. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC) — 1.04%
  9. “Good Girls” (NBC) — 0.98%
  10. “The Rain” (Netflix) — 0.98%

 

Top “Shows on the Rise” Week Ended Aug. 23 by Rise Ratio:

  1. “Lovecraft Country” (HBO) — 99.9%
  2. “Lucifer” (Netflix) — 84%
  3. “Teenage Bounty Hunters” (Netflix) — 62.5%
  4. “Dirty John” (Bravo) — 42.5%
  5. “Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star” (BBC Three) — 39.4%
  6. “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” (TVN) — 32.6%
  7. “The Legend of Korra” (Nickelodeon) — 29.9%
  8. “One Tree Hill” (The CW) — 24.4%
  9. “3%” (Netflix) — 23.3%
  10. “The Crown” (Netflix) — 15.7%

WarnerMedia CEO Not Concerned With HBO Max Sluggish Start

Speaking recently on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said he is “not at all concerned” with the slow start for subscription streaming service HBO Max, saying the platform was in a “really good position” based on previous estimates.

“If you look at last year at what we hoped we would be at the end of 2020, which is 36 million HBO and HBO Max subscribers, we announced just recently we are already north of 36 million, and obviously the number is going up every day,” Kilar said.

Kilar was hired May 1 to aggressively guide the former Time Warner company into the digital age — underscored by the May 27 launch of HBO Max. Since an initial observation period, Kilar has implemented massive corporate downsizing resulting in the elimination of about 600 positions across Warner Bros., Turner (except CNN) and HBO.

The former Hulu founder brought in fellow Hulu alum Andy Forssell as GM, spearheading marketing, consumer engagement and worldwide rollout of Max in a crowded SVOD market dominated by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video — and Disney-owned Hulu.

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Despite HBO’s brand recognition, subscriber/consumer adoption of Max has been slow. The service has attracted about 4.1 million subs through parent AT&T’s most-recent fiscal period, despite HBO having more than 35 million existing pay-TV subs. Undermining conversion efforts are ongoing negotiation challenges between WarnerMedia, Roku and Amazon Fire TV — the latter two key to third-party OTT video consumer adoption.

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Consumer adoption of Max pales in comparison to Disney+, which attracted 10 million sign-ups in its first 24 hours last November, and now has more than 60 million subscribers. In addition, NBCUniversal’s upstart Peacock service has generated more than 10 million subs. NBCUniversal owns CNBC.

Kilar argued that when comparing “apples to apples,” Peacock subscriber conversion of linear-TV subscribers isn’t demonstrably better than Max. He said Disney+, on the other hand, has the advantage of leveraging a 100-year-old family brand known globally.

“[Disney] did exactly what they should have done and kudos to them,” Kilar said. “Ours is a very different journey. I would argue ours is a bigger outcome because we are going after all members of the family. The opportunity is bigger, but it does mean the journey is going to be different because we don’t have a 100-year-old surgically-precise brand around families, specifically with kids under the age of 9.”

Kilar was asked if the HBO brand has become confusing to consumers due to the myriad access points, including HBO, HBO Go, HBO Now and Max. He agreed, saying both HBO Go and HBO Now are being “sunsetted,” with the end result continuing to drive users to HBO and the brand’s quality of programming.

“We want people to think of our stories as being a cut above,” Kilar said.