WarnerMedia Doubles Down on Streaming Shows Ahead of HBO Max Launch (Exclusive)

Kevin Reilly, Content Officer of HBO Max onstage at HBO Max WarnerMedia Investor Day - Getty-H 2020
Presley Ann/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Nearly two-thirds of new commissions are for online, not cable, a new report from Ampere Analysis finds.

Even at AT&T's WarnerMedia, home to HBO and Game of Thrones, cable is no longer king.

As WarnerMedia prepares to launch its streaming service HBO Max in May, the company has shifted resources from its cable networks to invest in online originals. A new study published Wednesday by Ampere Analytics found that while new streaming shows accounted for just 7 percent of WarnerMedia's original commissions in the fourth quarter of 2018, by the fourth quarter of 2019, streaming commissions represented 73 percent of WarnerMedia’s new TV projects.

In the fourth quarter, just over a quarter of WarnerMedia’s commissioning activity came from its cable networks, down from more than 90 percent in the same period of 2018.

“This is the clearest sign yet that the home of the juggernaut Game of Thrones will in the future play second fiddle to HBO Max,” said Fred Black, an analyst at Ampere Analysis. “Warner’s pivot toward an increasingly HBO Max-first approach to commissioning is not only apparent in the number of new projects in development, but also in the types of content being commissioned.”

Black noted that Warner's new slate leans heavily into science fiction and fantasy titles, genres seen to play particularly well online.

Warner recently ordered such series as Ridley Scott's sci-fi drama Raised by Wolves, a Green Lantern series from Arrowverse creator Greg Berlanti and an adaptation of the 2014 sci-fi novel Station Eleven from Maniac creator Patrick Somerville. Warner’s cable properties commissioned only four sci-fi and fantasy titles in 2019, all of them at HBO, while its HBO Max streaming platform ordered 12 new genre series.

The online shift is significant as Warner is the third-largest commissioner of new titles among U.S. cable networks groups, behind only Discovery and ViacomCBS, and second in the U.S. scripted space. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has said that the cable channel giant is mulling a streaming launch itself and after the merger that created ViacomCBS the company is looking to combine both sides' online offerings, which include CBS All Access and Showtime's streaming service.

On the film side, Warner Bros. Pictures and HBO Max have formed a new film production label, Warner Max, that will focus on releasing eight to 10 mid-budget movies per year via the company's new streaming service.

HBO Max will launch this May and cost of $15 per month for U.S. subscribers.