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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

    Follows the awkward experiences and racy tribulations of a modern-day African-American woman.

  • 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

    En grupp high school-elever tar sig fram genom ett minfält av droger, sex, identitet, trauma, sociala media, kärlek och vänskap i dagens alltmer instabila värld.

  • The Flight Attendant

    2020 M11 26

    En berättelse om hur ett helt liv kan förändras över en natt. Flygvärdinnan Cassandra Bowden vaknar bakfull på sitt hotellrum i Bangkok med en död kropp liggande intill sig – och ingen aning om vad som har hänt.

  • Station Eleven

    2021 M12 16

    En postapokalyptisk historia över flera tidslinjer. Den skildrar ödet för överlevarna efter en förödande influensa när de försöker återuppbygga och omforma världen samtidigt som de håller fast vid det bästa av det som gått förlorat.

  • I May Destroy You

    2020 M06 7

    Arabella (Michaela Coel) är en bekymmersfri och självsäker Londonbo. Hon har ett bra kompisgäng, en pojkvän i Italien och är i början av sin författarkarriär. Men efter att någon spetsar hennes drink med en våldtäktsdrog förändras hennes liv totalt.

  • 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

    Följ fyra rumskompisar på det prestigefyllda Essex College i New England. Hormon- och motsägelseknippena är lika älskvärda som irriterande när de lever ut sina nya fria liv på campus.

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