HBO And Max Content Boss Casey Bloys Tackles WGA Strike Impact On Content Budgets, WBD’s Licensing Strategy And Whether Password Sharing Will Remain Free

Along with programming updates, HBO and Max Content CEO Casey Bloys took on a handful of business topics during a 2024 slate event in New York, among them licensing, content spending and password sharing.

As far as HBO licensing select library shows like Ballers to Netflix, a move that went against the industry’s prevailing strategy between roughly 2018 and 2022, Bloys said he is “comfortable” with it.

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“We have to be protective of the shows that we have that are successful, but I’ve worked in television long enough and syndication used to be the pot of gold, the brass ring. That meant that your show was going to go on and have a life after its initial run, and a life for decades,” he said. “The idea of selling a show outside of your ecosystem wasn’t an unusual idea. At HBO we did it a lot. … We basically sold everything.”

Streaming started off as an exclusive-centric race, with companies clawing back rights to major properties, but Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and others have taken a different tack, citing in part the need to keep valuable third-party revenue flowing. And in terms of Max circulation, there can be additional benefits, Bloys added. “What we’ve seen so far is that any show we put on, we’re seeing an uptick on Max,” he said. “So, it has been helpful. That said, I don’t think you’re going to see more recent shows [being licensed]. I don’t think you’re going to see the shows I presented here anywhere else until years later, and that’s the syndication model. I am comfortable with it, and so far it seems to be working.”

Content budgets have fluctuated as companies grapple with the economics of streaming, with even long-spendy Netflix pulling up the reins. Bloys said the optimal level of spending at HBO and Max is determined by keeping a close eye on margins and ROI. While HBO has a proud legacy in linear TV and many subscribers still getting it that way, streaming “is where everybody is headed and what consumers like.” Given that ongoing shift, he added, the question when determining budgets is, “How do we embrace streaming but also do it in a way that we’re able to make money?”

Bloys also said the recent settlement between the WGA and the AMPTP, which will increase costs for Warner Bros. Discovery and other studios, won’t alter his approach. “There’s nothing coming out of this strike where I have said to myself, ‘Well, I’m not going to make this show,'” he said. “I don’t see a scenario where I say, “Well, I was going to make another tentpole show, but now I’m not going to because of the strike”.

The SAG-AFTRA strike, meanwhile, overlapped with the WGA but remains unresolved. That topic came up multiple times throughout the event, and Bloys offered a fairly standard wish for an end to the walkout that leaves guild members “happy.” Asked whether he’d consider splitting seasons rather than deferring them entirely, Bloys said, “I’ve had my fingers crossed all week” given reports that SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP appear to be nearing an agreement. “We’ve got scenarios that we would employ, but I’m really hoping we don’t have to.”

Quizzed about password sharing, which Netflix has made a priority and is now charging subscribers to do, Bloys said it is “definitely on the ‘to-do’ list” for Max, though colleagues would develop details of how Max would implement it. “The one advantage Netflix has in terms of password sharing is they are the first mover, so I think they’ve got a little bit more power to crack down on password sharing than other streamers,” he said. “But it’s definitely on the list and I think every streamer is thinking about it.”

Bloys began the event with a 2-minute mea culpa for setting up fake Twitter accounts aimed at trolling journalists with unfavorable views of HBO programming. In the Q&A, he also weighed in on the notion of superhero fatigue, arguing that versatility of tone can keep viewers engaged.

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