HBO CEO Touts Amazon Channels Deal, Says Prime Streaming Service Will Lose Its Shows After 2018

Richard Plepler- Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit-Getty-H 2016
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Warner Bros. boss Kevin Tsujihara talks about the creation of a possible premium VOD release window for films, saying the studio has had "constructive discussions with the exhibitors."

Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes was on Wednesday's quarterly earnings conference call, again joined by the heads of the conglomerate's three major divisions, who provided updates on key business topics.

HBO CEO Richard Plepler on the call was asked about a deal with Amazon, unveiled in December, to sell HBO and Cinemax via Amazon Channels. He told analysts that there had been “enormous” subscriber momentum from the deal, as well as such other digital platforms as DirecTV Now, adding that the strong performance means that the company won’t extend its current licensing deal for HBO library shows with Amazon Prime beyond the end of 2018.

"As we see the progress and sub revenue acceleration in our digital business, I don't think you are going to see us extend or expand our relationship with our library programming on Amazon, and we have no plans to do that beyond the end of the date, which is the end of next year," he said.

HBO library content has been available to Amazon Prime subscribers via a licensing deal since 2014. Amazon is offering a streaming version of HBO for $14.99 and Cinemax for $9.99 per month. Plepler didn't share any subscriber figures for the company's offerings on Amazon Channels.

Warner Bros. boss Kevin Tsujihara was, meanwhile, asked about talks about a possible premium VOD window shortly after theatrical releases, saying the studio has continued to have "constructive discussions with the exhibitors" about a model that would "hopefully" be "mutually beneficial." He said that "we're making good progress," adding that he and his team were "really excited" about the opportunity to give consumers more options, arguing that would overall create "a bigger pie" for the business.

Turner CEO John Martin was asked about the company's portfolio of cable network brands and whether he feels a need to consolidate it amid cord cutting, contentious carriage negotiations and the possible disappearance of weaker niche channels. "I have been pretty outspoken ... that there are a lot of networks that are in existence today that add no value to consumers, yet get paid affiliate fees," he said. "Those will eventually go away. That will be good for us."

He added that Turner has “incredibly popular networks and the most concentrated portfolio of popular networks in the United States. I don't see any need for further consolidation. I think other network groups are going to need to consolidate."

Time Warner, which earlier Wednesday reported first-quarter earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations, in late 2016 agreed to be acquired by AT&T for $85.4 billion.

"We remain on track, pending completion of regulatory reviews and receipt of consents, to close our merger with AT&T Inc. before the end of 2017," said Bewkes in the earnings report. "We remain excited about the potential for this combination to accelerate the pace of innovation in our businesses." On the call, he added that his team was looking forward to innovating once the companies are combined. 

CNN's performance and outlook was also in focus amid the strong ratings for news networks early in President Donald Trump's tenure. But one hot topic didn't come up. A new 30-second Trump ad, touting the first 100 days of his presidency, includes a photo split of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and CBS News' Scott Pelley with red overlay text of "FAKE NEWS" on the anchors' faces. On Tuesday, CNN said it declined to air the Trump ad, because it included false information, namely saying mainstream outlets were "fake news."

Bewkes on Wednesday in prepared remarks lauded CNN as a "trusted source" for news and analysis "in a complex world" and touted its most watched first quarter since 2003.

Martin said news advertising trends are "incredibly, incredibly strong” due to the politicized climate, but he said the company has seen somewhat of a moderation early this quarter elsewhere amid “some uncertainty of the economy." 

Bewkes also lauded Last Week Tonight With John Oliver for having had its most watched quarter ever amid the increased interest in current affairs.

Bewkes on Wednesday also lauded the continuing success of comedy network TBS, thanks to the likes of Samantha Bee, and said TNT was earlier in its programming refresh, but was looking forward to such upcoming shows as Will (about a young William Shakespeare), and Claws.

The Time Warner CEO also provided an update on an HBO hit show, saying: "We are now putting the finishing touches on season seven of Game of Thrones, which returns in July."

And Bewkes lauded the strong recent performance of the finale of Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls, adding: "We're already in development on two new projects with Lena Dunham."

It is known that Dunham and HBO have been developing a project tied to her digital newsletter Lenny, plus she previously sold a comedy series pilot to HBO.