Warner Bros. Discovery Upends Nascent HBO Max International Management

Consummation of the WarnerMedia, Discovery merger into Warner Bros. Discovery continues to impact HBO Max senior management.

Johannes Larcher and Luis Duran, only recently hired GMs of Max international and Latin American operations, respectively, are reportedly leaving the company.

Larcher, who joined WarnerMedia in July 2020 to oversee Max’s international rollout, confirmed his departure on LinkedIn. Max ended the most-recent fiscal period with 76.8 million subscribers when combined with the HBO pay-TV network.

“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not sad about soon leaving Warner. Bros. Discovery. The new company has such an amazing opportunity ahead of itself, and I wish Jean-Briac Perrette, [newly hired CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Global Streaming and Interactive], and the new leadership team nothing but the best as they take the helm,” Larcher wrote in a May 13 post.

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In a separate post, Manuel Urrutia, SVP of HBO Max global expansion strategy and operations and head of marketing HBO Max EMEA, lauded the achievements of Larcher, Duran and other departing staffers.

“Saying that yesterday was a tough day is a euphemism,” wrote Urrutia. “Thank you, Johannes for your leadership, guidance, and friendship. Our company is forever indebted to you. Thank you, Luis Duran, Jason Press, Sarah Lyons, Brad Wilson. Your achievements were nothing short of spectacular.”

Executive: HBO Max Using Netflix as Benchmark for International Expansion

When in doubt, emulate your competition. That seemed to be the gist of a keynote presentation by Johannes Larcher, head of HBO Max International, at the MipTV confab in Cannes, France.

Speaking April 5 at the global media event, Larcher said Netflix’s reported $12 billion content spending in 2021 is projected to top $21 billion in 2026. The executive, who joined WarnerMedia in 2020, contends that exponential growth in spending would help Netflix skyrocket its international footprint from 147 million subscribers last year to an estimated 266 million subs in the next four years.

“[That] $9 billion [in] additional programming dollars buys a lot of content,” Larcher said. “That buys you almost 700 episodes of ‘The Crown,’ 50 Spider Man: No Way Home movies. That ability to spend more on content on behalf of [subscribers] drives the need to go global.”

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And how does that relate to HBO Max?

Larcher said Max, which ended 2021 with 27 million subs outside the U.S., is now available in 61 territories globally after launching last month in 15 new European countries, including the Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and Romania. The streamer is set to launch operations later this year in Turkey, Greece, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. There are also plans for further expansion to Southeast Asia.

Notably absent: the U.K., France and Germany, which are still contracted to existing HBO pay-TV distribution deals.

“That’s why all of us [streamers] desire to go global,” Larcher said, adding that Max is upping its European original content production from 10 programs in 2019, to 40 shows by 2023. “There are slight variations on how we position our brand market by market.”

The executive said he believes that with the April 11 completion of Discovery’s minority stake, majority control acquisition of WarnerMedia, the new Warner Bros. Discovery company will help Max reach its international growth objectives.

“It will diversify our content, our service,” Larcher said of the deal that will combine Max with the Discovery+ SVOD service. “We have a shared vision of what the product should be in terms of packaging and how we go to market.”

Saudi Group Hires Ex-Hulu Executive to Jumpstart SVOD Service

The MBC Group, which claims to be largest media company in the Middle East, has hired Johannes Larcher, former SVP of international operations at Hulu, to upgrade its Shahid streaming video service.

MBC, like most major companies in Saudi Arabia, is majority-owned by the government, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The appointment comes about a week after Netflix reportedly agreed to remove an episode of original series,“Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” featuring the American stand-up comic and political commentator from Davis, Calif.

The episode was critical of Bin Salman and his alleged ties in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – allegations the Saudi royal family deny.

Regardless, an MBC representative told CNBC that Larcher’s hiring is part of a five-year company strategy to inject original and local Arab-language content into Shahid.

“We believe that the long-established relationship of MBC with Arab consumers will enable us to produce even more culturally relevant content that could travel beyond the region,” said the rep.