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Kevin Reilly wants Friends exclusively on WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service.
The veteran television executive on Monday afternoon stood before reporters for the first time in his new capacity as head of content for the direct-to-consumer offering and fielded questions about service’s programming strategy. One of the most pressing questions was whether WarnerMedia, which late last year inked a nearly $100 million licensing deal to keep Friends on Netflix for another year, would eventually pull the show from the streaming giant in order to offer it to subscribers of its own service.
Reilly responded that the “crown jewels” of the WarnerMedia library will likely ultimately end up on the service. “Sharing destination assets like that, it’s not a good model to share,” he said. “They should be exclusive to the service.”
WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announced the still-unnamed service in the fall, revealing that it would combine programming from the wide range of brands under the AT&T-owned media group, from Warner Bros. to Turner to HBO. He later explained that the plan for the service, set to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, was for a three-tiered pricing structure that would give customers a choice over what programming they wanted.
Reilly, whose appointment was announced in December, expanded on plans for the service, explaining that HBO and its 50 million subscribers will remain the center of the offering and continue to be available as a stand-alone product. Building off of the Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies network, WarnerMedia will have programming for kids and family, teens and young adults and adults.
“This is not a zero-sum game,” he said during prepared remarks at the start of his talk at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. “Consumers have an appetite to add to their SVOD choices, both paid and ad-supported.”
In addition to shows like Friends, Reilly said that WarnerMedia will look at every piece of content in its library to see whether it would be a good fit for the streaming service. He also described a new strategy he called “dynamic windowing” that would allow the company to have “the right product on the right platform at the right time.” Asked to clarify, Reilly said that he would detail the new strategy at a later date, but explained that WarnerMedia has a large enough library to continue to license some programming to the SVOD services and keep some programming for its own service. The exec added that he expects content will come on and off the WarnerMedia service, explaining that this ecosystem “is ultimately going to prove healthier for content and creative partners to create more access and exposure.”
Rounding out the service will be original programming, for which Reilly has tapped TNT’s Sarah Aubrey to lead. He explained that the content will span demos and likely include new shows set in the DC universe. But he also revealed that the originals will not be available at launch — what he’s describing as a “beta” version of the service — and will likely roll out in 2020 and ramp up into 2021. While WarnerMedia will look to buy from itself, Reilly is not ruling out buying from other studios, the way Disney+ recently ordered Diary of a Female President from CBS TV Studios.
Although the streaming landscape is getting increasingly competitive — with Disney, NBCUniversal and Apple all primed to launch services within the year — Reilly said WarnerMedia’s offering is not meant to be competitive. “We’re not looking to battle with Disney,” he said, explaining that the service will be differentiated even if it also includes the type of kids and family programming that Disney will focus on with Disney+. On Netflix, he noted, “We don’t need to beat Netflix. We just need to be desired as a differentiated option.”
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