HBO Max is doing the walk and talk.
Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer, on Tuesday indicated that the Warner Bros. TV-produced political drama, which ran for seven seasons on NBC from 1999-2006, will be part of the HBO Max offering when the service launches in April. The West Wing currently streams on Netflix in the U.S.
Greenblatt put the show alongside the “treasure trove of great shows” from Warners’ library that would be migrating to HBO Max. Those include previously announced deals for The Big Bang Theory and Friends, which WarnerMedia recently secured in deals worth a reported $600 million and $425 million, respectively.
The exec, speaking at a keynote at the MIPCOM market in Cannes, said he would be mining the “thousands of titles” in the Warner Bros. library to help stock HBO Max: “We are looking at acquiring shows, but we are also mining the library we have. Warner Bros. has the best movie library in the world and the best TV library in the world. We’ll be curating that for HBO Max.”
WarnerMedia and HBO Max are not alone in digging through the past for treasure. NBCUniversal paid $500 million to pull its hit comedy The Office off Netflix and secure it for Peacock, its new SVOD service. Netflix, in turn, ponied up $500 million for global rights to Seinfeld. (Financial terms of the West Wing deal were not revealed; reps for HBO Max were also unclear if the pact covers global or domestic only rights.)
At the MIPCOM market in Cannes this week, there was talk of a similar, big money SVOD deal for Mad Man in the works.
Greenblatt did highlight a few new shows that will be coming to HBO Max, announcing Grease: Rydell High, a series spinoff of the hit 1978 musical, as well as “several shows in the DC universe” to be produced by Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash). The exec also said HBO Max would be open to acquiring international and foreign-language shows. “We’ve seen on Netflix and Amazon extraordinary shows from Israel and Russia, and we’d love to have some of those as well,” he said.
But Greenblatt downplayed fears that the new streaming service, and its rapacious demand for more content, could lead to HBO sacrificing the quality of its shows in exchange for increased volume. He said that HBO would sit “unchanged” on the new platform, with all additional content — including library series and film and newly commissioned shows — in the “Max” portion of the offering.
“To build the new platform, we’re adding new programming. We’re not taxing HBO to do anything other than what they do,” said Greenblatt. “HBO is the great brand of all time in our opinion. People know it for its excellence. This year alone has been another extraordinary year, so there’s no plans to do anything but to keep that intact. The shows are made very carefully. There’s a certain number that is comfortable and we’re increasing slightly, but nothing to be alarmed about. It’s not going to be significant.”
When it comes to the programming of HBO Max, Greenblatt said he will not be leaving everything up to the robots but will do “real scheduling” to roll out shows in a manner akin to a traditional, linear broadcaster, at least initially.
“Eventually the tech will catch up, but we want to have a balance between the computer and the human being,” he said. “We are trying to build an algorithm that is a little more personal.”
Greenblatt noted the statistic that it took the average viewer on a streaming service around nine minutes to find something they wanted to watch: “We want to shorten that.”