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HBO Max Exec on Streaming Wars: ‘Not Everybody’s Going to Survive’

Ben Bowman

After a blockbuster year where HBO Max leapfrogged competition with its bold movie release strategy, the service is setting its eyes on the future. In an interview with Vulture, HBO Max Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys said, “We’re all in this race to end up as one of the top streaming services. It is a race. Not everybody’s going to survive, and my hope is that our programming makes us one of the must-haves.”

At last tally, HBO Max had 45.2 million subscribers in the U.S., a slight decline after the service broke away from the option to subscribe through Prime Video. Netflix has the lead with roughly 74 million domestic subscribers. Throughout the interview, Bloys suggested HBO Max may take pages from its competitors’ playbooks in order to succeed.

Similar to Disney+, HBO Max seems ready to mine its previously successful IP. Bloys mentioned that the service is open to more “Game of Thrones” spinoffs beyond the already-announced “House of the Dragon.” The service is also bringing back the “Sex and the City” crew for “And Just Like That …” and it went back to “The Sopranos” territory with “The Many Saints of Newark.” Bloys teased that the service could develop a series set in the world of Harry Potter, but he had nothing to announce. An exclusive series from beloved IP is definitely a shortcut to subscriber growth.

Also pulling a page from Disney, we may see a bundle offer coming when WarnerMedia completely merges with Discovery. “As you know there’s not a lot we can say, but I feel really good about the combination and where it might go,” Bloys said. “I am hopeful.”

Like Netflix, HBO Max is also poised to pull from more international creators. Bloys pointed out that HBO has been producing shows internationally for 20 years. “I think it’s safe to say that as we expand HBO Max globally, you will see more content being produced,” he said.

But since HBO Max is tied to Warner Bros. and its theatrical success, the service will lose its same-day movie premieres next year. Bloys said Warner Bros. titles will arrive on HBO Max 45 days after they appear in theaters, and production will ramp up on HBO Max exclusives with the aim of one new film every month. When pressed about competition from Netflix, which practically spews movies from a fire hose, Bloys responded, “I think you could also ask that the inverse of that: Is two or three per week too many? I think that we’ll find the right level that subscribers respond to, and that we feel good about the movies.”

The holy grail for streaming services is a wholly original hit. It’s fine to lean on existing IP to lure in subscribers with a new superhero show or a reunion of collaborators. But to make serious headway, each service will need something like a “Squid Game,” “Queen's Gambit” or “Tiger King” - buzzy entertainment that breaks through the clutter to drive entirely new subscriber growth. HBO Max may be able to reel in old “Game of Thrones” fans with “House of the Dragon,” but it’s unlikely to create new fans that way. There’s also the danger of oversaturation, exhausting a fanbase with diminishing returns as “Star Wars” fans would attest. The jury is still out as to whether HBO execs would be willing to make a high-potential series available as a streaming-only option. The pressure to share with the linear channel would be intense.

Jason Kilar became one of the most hated men in Hollywood when he made the call to shift the 2021 theatrical slate to simultaneous streaming premieres, but that bold move likely saved HBO Max from a stagnant year. With production back on track, the service appears to have jumped the COVID chasm more nimbly than many of its peers. It has all it needs to succeed. But in the streaming game, to borrow a phrase from a popular HBO series, “You win or you die.”


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