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Do the New Owners of HBO Max Understand Their Audience?

Ben Bowman

During the Warner Bros. Discovery Q2 earnings call, company leaders displayed a slide that struck many observers as incorrect. It made the claim that HBO Max has a “male skew.” Is that true?

Less than five months ago, the then-CEO of HBO tweeted about the progress the platform was making with female audiences.

Although Kilar’s numbers from March did indicate a “male skew” (by a whopping 2%), yesterday’s presentation slide seems to push an oddly reductive take: men watch HBO Max, women watch discovery+. That’s not true at all. We don’t have numbers on the gender divide of Discovery programming, so we can only guess at how many men watch “90 Day Fiancé” or “Kendra Sells Hollywood.”

One month after Kilar’s tweet about the increasing female audience, he tweeted an image with the caption, “A secret to the above success = making WarnerMedia more diverse, more inclusive in our team + stories. 47% of our global team are females (wasn’t always that way). In the US, 41% are people of color (more work to do, but vital progress).”

Contrast those results to the moves new CEO David Zaslav has made since dismissing Kilar. Bloomberg reports that much of the company leadership is now less diverse. “Given six seats on the new company’s board, Zaslav and Discovery appointed a roster of all white male directors,” according to Bloomberg. “People of color accounted for just 30% of Discovery’s workforce going into the merger, according to its public filings—the lowest share of any major media company.”

Indeed, much of the explosive growth of HBO Max to date has come from female-powered stories like “Mare of Easttown,” “Euphoria,” “And Just Like That,” “Insecure,” “I May Destroy You,” “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” and “Station Eleven.”

While Warner Bros. Discovery leaders would like investors to believe HBO Max and discovery+ are merely two perfectly interlocking puzzle pieces, it’s a hard sell. One service features carefully crafted stories, the other offers shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” with more than 400 episodes of a man who points at food. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s wild to say these are somehow equivalent. Filet mignon and Fruit Roll-Ups are not meals of equal value.

When questioned about the potential threat to the HBO legacy when the services merge, President & CEO of Discovery International JB Perrette said, “The HBO brand, no matter what, being a crown jewel will live on. There’s a difference between what the service may eventually be called or not versus what HBO is. HBO will always be the beacon and the ultimate brand that stands for the best of television quality. So that remains unchanged in any scenario in our mind.”

While Perrette may always think of HBO as the gold standard of TV, audiences may beg to differ if the quality or volume of content slips. Subscribers who enjoy prestige TV may also balk at having to pay a higher price for the library of unscripted programming that’s coming their way next summer, whether they want it or not. The HBO name can wither and die if not managed properly. Time will tell whether Zaslav knows his audience as well as he thinks he does.

Female Protagonists on HBO Max

  • Insecure

    2016 M10 9

    Neem een kijkje in de vriendschap, ervaringen en beproevingen van twee Afro-Amerikaanse vrouwen.

  • Mare of Easttown

    2021 M04 18

    A detective in a small Pennsylvania town (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart. The stellar cast features Jean Smart, David Denman, and Guy Pearce.

  • Euphoria

    2019 M06 16

    Euphoria’ vertelt het verhaal van de 17-jarige Rue, die na een overdosis haar zomer doorbrengt in rehab maar terugkeert naar school zonder enige intentie om clean te blijven. Niet dat Rue geen andere persoon wil zijn. Ze kán het gewoon niet. Wanneer ze Jules ontmoet, een transgender meisje dat net naar haar dorp verhuisde, maakt zij een grote indruk op haar leven.

  • The Flight Attendant

    2020 M11 26

    Stewardess Cassandra Bowden wordt wakker in haar hotelkamer met een kater van de nacht ervoor in Dubai met een lijk naast haar. Bang om de politie te bellen, vervolgt ze haar ochtend alsof er niets is gebeurd. In New York wordt ze opgewacht door FBI-agenten die haar ondervragen over haar recente tussenstop in Dubai. Omdat ze nog steeds niet in staat is om de nacht bij elkaar te houden, begint ze zich af te vragen of ze de moordenaar zou kunnen zijn.

  • Station Eleven

    2021 M12 16

    Een verwoestende grieppandemie heeft gewoed over de wereld. Verdeeld over meerdere tijdlijnen worden de verhalen gevolgd van verschillende overlevenden. Deze mensen proberen in een post-apocalyptisch landschap een nieuwe wereld op te bouwen, en hun eigen levens weer op de rails te krijgen, na alles eerder te hebben verloren.

  • I May Destroy You

    2020 M06 7

    Set in London, where gratification is only an app away, the story centers on Arabella, a carefree, self-assured Londoner with a group of great friends, a boyfriend in Italy, and a burgeoning writing career. But when her drink is spiked, she must question and rebuild every element of her life.

  • And Just Like That…

    2021 M12 9

    This new chapter of “Sex and the City” follows Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte as they navigate the journey from the complicated reality of life and friendship in their 30s to the even more complicated reality of life and friendship in their 50s.

  • The Sex Lives of College Girls

    2021 M11 18

    Volg vier studentes die kamergenoten worden wanneer ze beginnen op de prestigieuze Universiteit van Essex. Een hoop tegenstrijdigheden en hormonen, deze meiden zijn even sympathiek als onuitstaanbaar, terwijl ze hun nieuwe levens leiden op de campus.

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