Bill Simmons Inks New Deal at HBO (Exclusive)

Bill Simmons - Publicity - P 2018
Courtesy of HBO

HBO will remain in the Bill Simmons business.

The premium cable network has inked a new deal with Simmons, still the most prominent voice in sports journalism. He’ll continue to be focused on creating and producing sports-themed content across the portfolio, be it series, films or the kinds of documentary programming with which he had considerable success at his former home, ESPN. The announcement arrives on the heels of his first foray into the latter at HBO with April's Andre the Giant, which quickly became the most-watched documentary in HBO Sports history with nearly 7 million viewers across the network’s linear and digital platforms.

“I’m thrilled to keep going with the HBO family and can’t wait to get started on a couple of the more ambitious projects we’ve hatched,” said Simmons, effusive in his praise as he continued: “I witnessed it firsthand with our Andre doc — when you create something unique for HBO, they’ve built so much trust and equity in their audience over the years that it’s always going to be seen. Every single time. If it’s good and it’s on HBO, it will stand out. Even though we have more entertainment choices than ever right now, HBO still cuts through in an incredibly precise, almost unassailable way — and they work better with creatives than anyone, period. I am lucky to work with them and I know it.”

Simmons’ new deal comes as HBO looks to up its output under new AT&T ownership. In a widely covered town hall meeting with the staff, WarnerMedia’s new chief, John Stankey, a longtime AT&T executive, stressed the significance of adding considerably more content across the portfolio, noting: “I want more hours of engagement.” Still, the new deal is not as broad-sweeping as Simmons’ original, which included a talk show, Any Given Wednesday. The weekly show launched in June 2016 and was pulled in November of the same year. During its run, Simmons had a wide range of guests come through, including a memorable turn from Ben Affleck, as well Jimmy Kimmel, Larry Wilmore and soccer star Abby Wambach. The episodes reportedly averaged only 200,000 viewers for their premiere showings, roughly a fifth of fellow HBO host Bill Maher's regular haul.

It was former programming chief Michael Lombardo who initially lured Simmons to the network in 2015, following his famously messy divorce from ESPN. At that time, Lombardo had been impressed by Simmons' podcast work, pointing specifically to his interviews with Girls creator/star Lena Dunham and NBA forward Serge Ibaka. “I just thought, ‘This guy can go from Lena to Serge Ibaka with such passion and dexterity, I have to meet him,’” he told THR shortly before the series debuted. As part of the initial pact, HBO made a small investment in The Ringer as well.

The Ringer's podcast network has grown significantly in the years since. At last count, it was home to 26 podcasts, including The Dave Chang Show, Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air, The Watch and Simmons’ own eponymous show. Collectively, the network lays claim to over 32 million downloads, with Simmons’ podcast averaging nearly 1.2 million downloads per episode. The site, for its part, notched its most trafficked month in June, with more than 40 million page views and close to 10 million unique visitors, up 40 percent from a year earlier.

Looking ahead, Simmons intends to expand The Ringer into films, having recently launched Ringer Films. He is staying mum on specific plans for now but intends to announce his first slate of scripted and non-scripted projects later this year. There will be more ad partnerships and more shows, too, be they digital (his NBA Draft show averaged close to 10k viewers over three hours) or linear (a la his Courtside at the NBA Finals for HBO).

Simmons, the company’s founder and CEO, is repped by Dixon Talent. The Ringer itself is repped by CAA.