Kevin Reilly: HBO Max Will Keep Biggest WarnerMedia Hits, Not Hand Rivals a "Club to Beat Us" With

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Kevin Reilly

At a London conference, he also discusses the downsides of the binge-viewing culture and algorithms and how the company will share data with content producers.

WarnerMedia's Kevin Reilly took to the stage at C21's Content London conference on Wednesday to discuss HBO Max and licensing content to streaming giants.

The chief content officer for WarnerMedia said the company in the past licensed content to streaming giants, most notably Netflix, and saw that a high percentage of usage was due to its content, but it got no data. “While on the one hand that was very lucrative to our production side of our house, for those of us who ran networks we were basically giving them the club to beat us over the head with," Reilly said. "So we decided that’s probably a good thing to stop.”

While highlighting that WarnerMedia is not shutting down content licensing activities completely, Reilly said: "The biggest and best known properties of WarnerMedia will be in HBO Max almost exclusively.” The company famously decided to end licensing its hit show Friends to Netflix after the current deal ends. 

Will HBO Max share data with producers? Reilly said it is "not viable anymore" to hold on to data, adding the company is currently refining its strategy and approach to that. "We will look to have a more transparent approach to sharing data with content providers," he said.

The upcoming HBO Max streaming service and head of cable networks TNT, TBS and truTV in this keynote session set the scene for HBO Max’s strategy and how the AT&T-owned entertainment firm is looking to position itself amid what has been dubbed the "streaming wars." Reilly actually said that the term "streaming wars" was not accurate, because services and their target audiences are really "quite different."

In that context, he highlighted again that a human element is key to HBO Max compared with global streamers like Netflix. Algorithm-based services that see people being "fed" content is "something that we are really looking to address," he said, citing the "recommended by humans" feature of HBO Max. "The machines haven't taken over the world yet." 

About binge-viewing, Reilly highlighted that HBO Max will have a whole slew of originals available upon launch and that the service will release two to three episodes for a series at once and then add weekly releases from there, with a "steady pulse" of offerings for various audience segments. "We think that's better for building culture and having impact," he said. "The downside of this binge culture is ... it does tend to commodify what we do for a living." 

Reilly also emphasized how HBO Max will be more than the traditional U.S. HBO. "Domestically, [HBO] is a beloved brand" with "adult, sophisticated" content, but HBO Max will "wrap another service" around that thanks to the Warner studio library, adding kids and family programming, as well as programming for young adults, he said. With Disney+ using Disney's family and kids strength, he said the company felt that while maybe it wouldn't "win" in this space, it felt it could have appealing content for that audience.

He also noted that third-party content will also be featured on HBO Max, including from Japan's Studio Ghibli and the BBC, such as Doctor Who.

In terms of HBO Max originals, HBO has ordered scripted and unscripted content. "We are not looking to do our version of Game of Thrones," he explained. "Generally speaking, we are not competing for the same projects" as HBO.

Asked about HBO Max's international rollout and content plans, Reilly said: "Globally, we are going to begin sourcing now" and "will be sort of ramping" up after the U.S. launch." He said for now HBO Max is buying content for the U.S., but will over time source more from abroad, adding that co-productions and other kind of deals are possible. 

Overall, WarnerMedia seems to be taking a page out of the international playbook of HBO for the global rollout of upcoming streaming service. HBO has long used different strategies to make money in different international markets — from operating its own networks, like in the U.S., running streaming-only services in others and simply licensing its content to strong local players in a third set of markets. 

Latin America will be the first region abroad to get HBO Max as a separate service, while HBO Max's Europe launch timing has not been set, Reilly said on Wednesday. "HBO Max's product and the alliances underneath of it will likely take different forms in different territories" unlike Netflix and other rivals that have global approaches, he said, adding that for HBO Max it will in many cases be "market-to-market" decisions. 

Reilly said since the acquisition by AT&T, the company has realigned management and structures, saying more such change will come to international territories over the next year. 

HBO Max will bow in May and cost $15 per month, the same price as HBO but with significantly more TV shows and movies. The service will be filled with 10,000 hours of programming from across the conglomerate’s divisions, including such TV hits as FriendsThe Big Bang Theory and South Park; Warner Bros. films including Joker; the full HBO catalog; and originals such as the previously announced Ansel Elgort drama Tokyo Vice, a Grease spinoff and a Gossip Girl sequel. 

WarnerMedia at a late October HBO Max launch event also revealed that it will offer the service subscription platform in its first year before launching an ad-supported version in 2021. Also on the roadmap are plans for live and interactive programming as well as special events.