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Report: Warner Bros. Discovery Considering Running HBO, HBO Max Reruns on TNT, TBS as Low-Cost Programming Option

David Satin

Warner Bros. Discovery is clearly looking under every stone to try and shake loose a few more dollars to eat into the $3 billion hole that CEO David Zaslav is trying to fill in, and the company is turning to its primary streaming service HBO Max for as much assistance as possible. The company’s latest tactic? Airing streaming and previously premium content on its linear cable channels to attract viewers to as many of its platforms as possible.

According to a new report from Business Insider, Zaslav sees cable channels TNT and TBS as important parts of his strategy to revolutionize WBD’s platforms. The cable channels draw a large audience thanks to their live sports programming, particularly the NBA. If the networks can keep those audiences watching non-sports content, that can help both the linear and streaming brands. So, why not have those networks put some of HBO’s most popular content in front of their eyes?

Second-run programming like “The Sopranos,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Succession,” and other HBO and HBO Max titles could soon become a permanent part of TNT and TBS’s programming schedule. The latter channel has already begun experimenting with one-off presentations called “Front Row on TBS,” which saw the first season of “The Flight Attendant” air ahead of Season 2’s premiere on HBO Max and Season 1 of “Titans” air on cable before the third season began.

This new plan would essentially see — around the valuable sports programming, of course — the Turner networks become a repository of reruns from HBO’s library of premium cable and streaming originals. WBD hopes that this will not only draw more attention to the cablers, but also encourage viewers to sign up for the streamer so that they can watch their favorite HBO programs on demand. While the corporate synergy makes sense, especially as a cheap way to fill cable air time, one unnamed former Warner executive is skeptical of the company essentially going backward when it comes to running the cable channels.

“Samantha Bee is gone, and all of the original programming. It’s reverting back to the old model of 20 years ago and becoming a network that is all reruns,” the former executive said of TBS. “At some point [WBD execs] have to make a decision with all the cable networks: Can they sustain all of them or do they consolidate?”

Warner’s hope for sustaining those channels is the live sports content they offer. TNT’s deal with the NBA runs through the 2024-25 season, and WBD definitely wants to renew that contract. TNT also airs NHL games, and TBS gets some MLB games, while both channels air the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. According to Insider, there is also discussion of making one of the channels a sports-focused network, combining all of WBD’s cable sports rights in one place and supplementing with other sports-themed programming.

While that would be a bigger swing for the company, the movement of HBO shows from being exclusively available via streaming to airing on linear cable channels is a bit of a trend-buster for WBD. More and more networks are choosing to do just the opposite; moving high-profile shows exclusively to streaming in hopes of boosting the profile of their respective streaming services.

That’s what Disney did when it moved “Dancing With The Stars” to Disney+ exclusively. Peacock is doing the same with the long-running soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” But those companies are also increasing their streaming budgets, while WBD is in the midst of a massive cutback.

“Our goal is to compete with the leading streaming services, not to win the spending war,” Zaslav said in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call last year.

Leaning on established outlets like TNT and TBS as platforms for second-run premium programming may indeed help WBD, but it’s another in a long line of signs that the bottom line is much more important to the company than the customer’s experience.


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