Plans for the two-year old streaming service take shape during Warner Bros. Discovery’s second-quarter results
This is not something that everyone likes.
“It’s the equivalent of a toxic relationship filled with broken promises,”One former Warner Bros. employee spoke out about the company’s recent strategy and ownership changes.
But hope springs eternal as WBD — which has seen its stock drop 15% since Thursday — moves forward. To better understand the future of this new company’s streaming endeavors and how it impacts audiences, let’s explore what we know for sure, what we think we know and what we don’t know.
What we know: Goals (subs) & Objectives (cash flow).
The company’s stated streaming goal is now 130 million global paid subscribers; it currently boasts a combined 92.1 million worldwide subs between HBO Max and Discovery+. The international push will come one year after the merge of HBO Max and Discovery+.
There is also an interest in creating a free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST). It’s the latest pivot in a revolving door of strategic mandates since then-Time Warner was acquired by AT&T in 2018.
Today, the company has a completely different reality than six months ago when AT&T was funding the operation and Wall Street was still bullish on streaming. WBD plans to invest more in streaming (“It’s not about how much, it’s about how good,”Thursday’s comments were made by Zaslav. They spoke of a need to get more cash from legacy businesses and reduce overhead costs. Although scripted programming remains in a strong position, the overall company goals have changed.
“The north star is not going global and reaching 200 million subs on HBO Max anymore,”A HBO Max insider said that. “It’s about boosting free cash flow to support the stock and pay for the debt.”
At the end Q2, gross debt reached a staggering $53 trillion.
If WBD achieves its goal of 130 million global subs in the next 12 months, that will represent a customer base about half of Netflix’s 220.67 million.
“It’s not that they are starting from zero, but as far as audacious goals go, that’s up there, along with, well, Discovery acquiring a major studio — hard to fathom until it happened,” Ian Greenblatt, J.D. Power’s managing director and GM, tech/media/telecom Intelligence, said.
Financially, WBD’s Q2 results were a “little worse than I expected,”Steve Birenberg, founder and CEO of Northlake Capital Management told. The company missed revenue expectations by $2B, suffered a net loss $3.4B, and saw its free cash flow fall by $200M. It is now looking at a streaming rerollout in a highly saturated market.
Warner Bros. When discussing future scripted programming strategies, Discovery CEO David Zaslav spoke highly of Casey Bloys, HBO/HBO Max chief Content Officer, and his team.
“Quality is what matters. Quality is what Casey and that team is delivering. It’s the best team in the business. We’re doubling down on that HBO team,” Zaslav said.
We believe we know this: customer targets (audience), staff “efficiencies” (layoffs)
Discovery+’s content, mostly comprised of unscripted fare such as “American Detective”And “Serving the Hamptons,”HBO Max (“The Undoing,” “Hacks”They are very different. Hollywood is left to wonder about the viewer overlap. Parrot Analytics says HBO Max is still slightly more male-oriented than the industry standard, while Discovery+ attracts 40-plus viewers.
The two streamers seem to complement each other in the sense that they create a four-quadrant, broad-based entertainment product. Zaslav and his team stressed that the combined service will have something for everyone. This could lead to more affordable fare (sort of Disney), and less risk on high-concept oddities such as “Doom Patrol”Or “Made for Love”No matter how wonderful they may be.
User experience and good content are key factors in a platform’s success. We know they have great content on the Warners side — though Zaslav has largely axed scripted content on TBS and TNT and gutted family live-action entertainment on HBO Max after pulling the plug on CNN+ and reorganized the Warner Bros. film studio — and we know they have differently attractive content on the Discovery side. Programming should be. “a win”According to one analyst, the combined company will be a success.
It remains to be seen if HBO Max subscribers will want Discovery+ content on the home screens of their homes and vice versa. (Not to mention Zaslav’s frosty relationship with the creative community at the moment, which could affect future development).
With an internal restructuring on the horizon, we’re also not 100% clear on how WBD will look in the near future. WBD leadership spoke of staff “efficiencies”On its earnings call, a spokesperson for the company stated that there will be some layoffs in the unscripted developer segment but not in the back office or tech. With Zaslav readjusting the streaming parameters, there’s a fair amount of change swirling on the horizon.
“The shift is being managed in a very centralized way, which gives this a lot of speed,”According to an insider at HBO Max.
What we don’t know: pricing, branding and user experience
How do we begin? WBD’s Q2 earnings were presented very close to the vest. This left both analysts as well as audiences uneasy about how the company intends to meet its goals and satisfy its customers.
- What will the combined streaming service cost you?
- How will the company convert subscribers to both Discovery and HBO, beyond the vague grandfather plan discussed in the earnings call?
- Is it necessary to add a new subscription to our monthly costs?
- Oh, yeah! And what’s this new service going to be called?
Although it sounds like the combo streamer will be using the technology backbone of Discovery+ as well as the user features from HBO Max, no one knows what the actual experience will look like for viewers. This remodel is likely to replace HBO Max as it exists today.
WBD leadership made their stance on streaming-exclusive films quite clear (they’re against them!). The removal of six HBO Max original films this week was done for tax reasons. But can we expect WBD’s leadership to be more aggressive in licensing titles to outside platforms to rekindle the revenue engine? (As other companies like Disney and NBCUniversal are actually reclaiming their licensed titles to boost their own streaming service libraries). What’s to come of the handful of DC Comics series currently in development? Will Discovery spend more on its own programming expansion, after touting the “90 Day Fiancé” universe? (180 Day Fiancé? 45 Day Fiancé? (We need to know the answers!!)
WBD’s Q2 investor call more or less left the impression that the company is in a trial period for the next 12 months as it works to pay down debt, leaving both industry insiders and anxious audiences to wonder what’s next.