I know this post is coming in kind of late, but just when I was ready to write it up the federal government intervened. As we know AT&T purchased Warner Brothers and quickly turned it into Warner Media with John Stankey at the helm. A Judge Leon approved the $ 85 billion merger and procedure moved quickly. Stankey even vocalized plans on how the merger would involve HBO. More on that in a bit.
Despite the wheels being in motion, the Department of Justice rescinded the ruling made on June 12th without citing the justifiable cause. Forthcoming inquires and court dates will reveal all, but it involves the classification of the AT&T/Warner deal as a “vertical merger” which is not as beneficial across the board as a “horizontal merger” like the Disney/21st Century Fox plan. Exactly how AT&T’s proceedings come to a screeching halt I am not sure, but they have done. At least, until the legal issues get worked out or, possibly, not worked out. So, exactly what that means for HBO is worth examination around here.
John Stankey, the new head of Warner Media, spent time at a ‘town hall” meeting in New York with HBO executive Richard Plepler joining him onstage. One strong quote from Stankey that caught my attention is –
“We need hours a day. It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”
To reach that takes “stepped-up investment” to use his words. He continued to say that –
“As I step back and think about what’s unique about the brand and where it needs to go, there’s got to be a little more depth to it, there’s got to be more frequent engagement. [HBO must] “build that brand so that it’s broad enough to make that happen.”
We can easily crunch that information down to a point that will resonate with us – just a few quality shows on Sunday nights cannot compete with other streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu. Here at HBOWatch we have often opined that HBO needed to expand off of Sunday. Content is key and it will take an investment of talent & money to do so and AT&T is willing to change all that up to see HBO evolve. And to do so, it seems, means that Stankey will be showing an aggressive presence at the network. He says –
“You’ve earned the dynamic amongst your customer base that when you put a new piece of content out there, people will try it, just because they trust you’re going to be putting something in front of them that they might like. We now need to figure out how to expand the aperture of it without losing the quality.”
How to keep HBO exciting and profitable without looking like just another streaming giant is a challenge. Do you lose the on-air pay channels? Do you develop a stronger portfolio of content at the rate Netflix churns it out? What does that say about quality over quantity?
If the merger is truly squelched by the DOJ than HBO was just given free advice from AT&T. Should it run with it and become a Netflix hybrid called (jokingly) “HBOFlix”? If the deal is honored HBO will have little choice but to change its model under new leadership. What happens to Plepler and Programming chief Casey Bloys? Needless to say, HBOWatch will be watching closely. Already we have seen an influx of content proposals. Stay tuned!