WarnerMedia broke the news Friday about a major internal upheaval, which translated into the resignations of WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and HBO Max chief executive Kevin Reilly, and the heights of Warner Bros. chief executive Ann Sarnoff and HBO programming guru Casey Bloys. The company also created a new business unit for HBO Max, and appointed Andy Forssell – who worked with WarnerMedia’s CEO Jason Kilar after Kilar founded Hulu – as its member.
In a memo, Kilar stressed the importance of the newly launched direct-to-consumer platform HBO Max for the overall company and said that the structural changes are designed to help WarnerMedia work more efficiently and effectively.
Below is a condensed conversation with Kilar, who spoke with Amount shortly after the announcement was made to share what it means:
With Andy Forssell ̵
He was very much one of the most important architects for what I call over-the-top streaming. This goes back to 2007, when most people made fun of streaming services, whether that was what would become Hulu or Netflix at the time. And so that is the background to Andy Forssell, which I can not exaggerate the importance of him as an architect and business leader in connection with Hulu.
When it comes to material changes, there are two changes that I will highlight among a number of them. No. 1 is that he will report directly to me as well as his organization under him, which is obviously a change. And it obviously sends a very strong signal, both internally and externally about the importance of directly to the consumer in the future. That’s a change.
The other change, which is just as important, is the global launch of HBO Max, also under Andy … It is very important in our future that we go global, that we not only go directly to the consumer but also go global. … There’s a fantastic CEO named Johannes Larcher who has actually taken both Hulu and other top services to international premises. And John will report to Andy in that role.
Given these changes, will it change your HBO Max subscriber and revenue goals as you continue this rollout internationally?
Unfortunately, are you trying to get me to sign up for new numbers? [Laughs.] Without talking about integers, my team’s ambitions for the possibility of this structure are really very large, as it should be. And I say that in response to consumer demand. There are people who tweet about me all the time who are in Portugal or Spain, or Latin America, or wherever they finally want HBO Max. It’s our job to take it to them.
Now that Casey Bloys is at the forefront of programming for HBO, HBO Max and the Turner network, how do you see HBO and HBO Max’s originals being further adjusted under his leadership?
I think that makes it a lot easier. Make no mistake, this is a trustee in Casey, who I feel very good about doing, given his story. I mean, I think he has more Emmy nominations than I’ve gotten hair. So this is someone I have admired from a distance. It is such a gift to be able to do it with them.
And so it makes things easier. Of course, Casey has so much activity going on between his teams that this allows him to quickly decide on an HBO sensitivity, an HBO Max original sensitivity, and then obviously TNT and TBS. And Casey has a long history in programming that is beyond HBO.
So this is someone who is incredibly talented at programming for different emotions. And that’s what I’m so excited about – is that Casey and his recently expanded team will really be able to program for many different emotions. Of course, he will probably always be known for HBO because it’s an extremely powerful sensitivity if you look at it from an industry perspective, but we also got a lot of other emotions in this world, in terms of DC, the material and also kinds of brands and franchises and obviously original IP that we now pipeline.
Should we expect further changes to Warner Bros., or any restructuring of film and television studios under Ann Sarnoff?
At heading level, no. Because this is really our move to bring together what were two different studios and content organizations and unite them as one, and to make the changes we make with Casey, most clear. So you should not expect anything from what we are obviously talking about today. I never want to suggest that any organization on the planet get calcified and stuck and frozen. So shame on us if we do not constantly move forward as an organism, but no, you should not expect major changes in line with this.
What have your conversations with AT & T’s CEO John Stankey been about on the way to WarnerMedia from here?
When John and I started talking about WarnerMedia, and that was even before I joined, I see this as Chapter Two of what was a very clear Chapter One that John introduced. When AT&T bought WarnerMedia, John did what I believe is the most important earth in the history of WarnerMedia, which is – there were three distinct companies between Turner, HBO and Warner Bros.
What John did was incredibly groundbreaking, breaking down those walls and silos and really introducing the idea of a single company, which is WarnerMedia. And I’m so grateful for the work he does, because it’s the hardest work, and most importantly, more sincerely, because it’s the foundation. And what I do in chapter two of it, which sharpens our focus so that we can historically go from a wholesale company, as all media companies have been for the past hundred years and really moved into the future, which is to become a consumer company … which means going directly to the consumer and going global.
I do not mean to suggest that we are not already global today. We have a lot of revenue that is outside the US But when I talk about going global, I think we can have 70% or more of our customers and our revenue outside the US. – and it is really a change from where we are today.
Given your background in Silicon Valley, what philosophy do you take with you from your Hulu days until now? It really seems very gentle, what you knew and what you worked on on Hulu 2007, against the industry’s focus on streaming now.
Thanks for the question, because it’s humble … I think one of the things that’s so important to WarnerMedia and how I think about it is a couple of things. Number one, we have to start with the customer [and] what do we do to serve them?
At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is try to move the world through stories. We’re trying to move consumers through stories, and I think if we start there. And then ask ourselves, how can we do the best job we can when it comes to storytelling, interactive storytelling … and then work our way back from it, that’s when the magic happens, the lack of a better phrase. And so there’s one thing I bring to the table, which is a very, very focused consumer orientation and sensitivity.
The second thing I hope to be able to bring with the team – I think it is very important that we feel empowered to take risks when it comes to serving customers. And when you take risks, it is a natural inevitability that you will fail a lot. Because when you take risks, you know that you are experimenting and not all experiments go the way you want. So I want to strengthen this team, to act boldly, to lean into the future, to take risks … to know that yes, sometimes we will fail. But I believe in the fullness of time, given how talented this team is, that we will do a fantastic job for the customers.
The Internet, I believe, is the single greatest gift that could be given to any media company. For what the internet allows you to do is go directly to consumers all over the world, and media companies in the last hundred years have never had that opportunity. And so I’m so excited about our opportunity to do that, but that means we have to do two things. We must be consumer-oriented. And we must be willing to take risks and lean into the future.
That is a good question. As you can imagine, I obviously spend a lot of time with medical experts and try to get as close as I can to where the pandemic is going – vaccines, research and all other things.
I would say a few things. I think we will return to sports arenas, we will return to theaters, we will return to restaurants. I think it will happen – it’s a question of when and in which countries and which cities and towns, because I think it will really be very surgical in terms of the differences.
So I think that … because we are human and we are resilient and we solve these problems together. The second thing is: Does the occurrence of a pandemic do things that cause change in this industry? And the answer is absolute. I think it is accelerating changes that are probably already underway.
I think it’s fair to say that from a theatrical perspective, some of the things we see, including ‘Mulan’, are very pragmatic executions given that it is what it is. That said, I think it’s also fair to say that it will change in a theatrical distribution. We will lean towards the actual distribution incredibly aggressively in the future. But I also think so – will the window stay on for 130 plus days? I do not think so. But I do not think anyone else thinks so.
So the question is how do we get from here and there, and it’s obviously big for very good copies, as they say in the press.
So you think you’d be open to making a similar move as Disney did with “Mulan” this week?
So I have no comment on that specifically. I think that with “Tenet” we should judge this based on our decision about “Tenet”, which is: We believe in the theatrical activity. We are happy to collaborate with Chris Nolan to first and foremost get “Tenet” in the theater.
And so, of course, it will be in a different format, in other places, which are not theatrical. But I think that if you look at our behavior, we believe in that theater experience and are of course in very close communication with everyone in the exhibition industry, about the subject of windows and how we can collectively serve consumers in the best way possible in the future.
So I know it’s a pretty provocative topic, and I get it and it’s very understandable. But at the end of the day, I’m happy about it and I lean into it.