February 11, 2019
WarnerMedia Streaming Service Will Be Discounted for HBO Subscribers, Beta Launch Planned [TCA 2019]
TBS/TNT President Kevin Reilly presented his vision for the yet unnamed Warner streaming service during the Television Critics Association presentation on Monday. Warner Bros. wants in on those sweet, sweet streaming dollars, so they’re going to use their library and forthcoming original programs to launch their own answer to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, CBS All Access, FXNow and the upcoming Disney+. Reilly is heading up WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service, and took questions from the television critics. Here are six things we learned about Warners’ plans to enter the streaming game.
A Beta Will Be Ready This Year
Subscribers are going to get to try out Warners’ streaming service as it develops.
“Our initial launch will be a beta product in Q4,” Reilly said. “Our beta will not have original programming but we will introduce it in 2020. Expect it in all the verticals: kids and family, teens up to adult.”
So the initial launch will showcase the library of Warner media across Warner Bros. studios, New Line Cinema, HBO, The CW, TNT, TBS, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes, and Hanna Barbara. Titles Reilly chose to highlight on screen included movies like Lord of the Rings, Nightmare on Elm Street, Wedding Crashers, Caddyshack, Casablanca, Goodfellas, A Star is Born, Wonder Woman, 300, Dirty Harry, and The Hangover.
That’s certainly an impressive library, but one that most of us currently have access to elsewhere. Warner can certainly make those titles exclusive to their streaming service. More on that later, but it would seem like originals are going to be what determine whether it’s worth adding another monthly subscription. We won’t see those until 2020.
How Much Will It Cost?
Reilly wouldn’t say how much the new streaming service would cost, but he offered some hints. First of all, they’re going to start with the base of 50 million HBO subscribers, and potentially the broader AT&T subscriber base. Reilly suggested offering tiered pricing, implying HBO customers could get a discount on this add-on. But it definitely won’t be free no matter what you already own.
“It is a separate service,” Reilly said. “They will run separately. HBO will be offered as a standalone. Those are the customer base we will begin speaking to and offering pricing. They can buy the service standalone. We’re required to offer it that way. On top of it we will begin speaking to those consumers and saying, ‘Here’s something else you may want to have.’”
One advantage Reilly promised is that if you subscribe to both HBO and Warner streaming, they’ll create a single user experience, unlike Netflix vs. Hulu.
“When they’re offered together it will be a seamless consumer experience,” Reilly said. “You won’t have to toggle back and forth. The way you get it on your feed or streaming will be a seamless integrated experience.”
That’s nice and fun, but that’ll only consolidate a few of the assets. Most of us toggle between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, cable/satellite, our Vudu library, our DVR, etc., but it remains to be seen how many of us would rather not spend more money for another service.
Friends Is the Key
We don’t mean having friends is the key to making your life meaningful. Literally, the TV show Friends will be the feather in Warner streaming’s cap. Reilly saw how Friends exploded on Netflix, so he wants it for his streaming service. Reilly didn’t come out and say they’ll hold Friends hostage, but streaming and syndication deals are up soon.
“I think you can expect that the crown jewels of Warner will ultimately end up on a new service,” Reilly said. “We’re not pulling it away but it certainly is something we’re looking to do. I think for the most part sharing destination assets like that is not a good model. They should be exclusive to the service.”
That’s probably the smartest play of this whole announcement. Younger viewers became hooked on Friends on Netflix. If Warner streaming becomes The Friends Channel, a lot of folks would sign up.
Exclusivity Is Flexible
The announcement also listed shows like Titans, Doom Patrol, and the upcoming Swamp Thing. Those are all on the DC Universe service which just launched last year. If DC Universe is included in Warner streaming, that would render DC Universe moot. Reilly suggested there may be sharing between Warner Media assets.
“We’re working out the particulars of it right now but we want to respect and build off of that fandom,” Reilly said. “You can expect more original DC content on the platform and in some conjunction with DC Universe.”
Content can also come and go from Warner Media streaming.
“There is no piece of content in the Warner Media portfolio that will not be looked at for the service,” Reilly said. “That doesn’t mean every piece of content will end up on the service or end up on the service permanently. My point in talking about the breadth and size of our library is we have a lot of content we can work with. Content goes through a natural life cycle at which it benefits at times being off a platform or being on a new platform.”
Reilly also acknowledges how the wealth of choices makes picking what to watch stressful. He can’t help eliminate the choices of Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube, but he feels Warner Media streaming should offer reasonable choices, not excessive ones.
“We want to offer a more differentiated, curated SVOD brand,” Reilly said. “We don’t think entertainment should induce a stress response.”
It’s An Alternative To Disney+
WarnerMedia is pretty much the only conglomerate that could pose a threat to Disney+ with their library of IP. Disney+ will launch with new Star Wars and Marvel shows, so they have that. But if Warner Media streaming takes off, it will appeal to four quadrants.
“First of all we are going to offer a very, really excellent section of the service for kids and families that will have family protection mechanisms and does have a very deep library,” Reilly said. “We are building a much broader service than what I understand the Disney+ product to be, I presume aimed at families. From the get go it will be seen as two very different choices. It’s really going to be about making a choice of this product plus that product plus that product gives me most of what I need. We’re not looking to battle with Disney. This will be its own service that happens to include kids and family.”
The kids and family content includes Hanna Barbara and Looney Tunes, including new Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote shorts as well as Steven Universe and The LEGO Movies.
Filmstruck Could Live Again
Fielding a question about the cancellation of Filmstruck, Reilly indicated that a classic movie service could live as part of WarnerMedia streaming. It can’t be a focus of the launch, but it may be added eventually.
“Number one, there is a value on [Filmstruck] that speaks to what you aspire to do in this business,” Reilly said. “The true classic movies which we were able to offer the service, because Warner Bros. has a disproportionate amount of titles considered the Great Films, having that aspirational beacon is very important and that fan base. Where we had to be at this stage of the build, while that is a very, very passionate fan base, it is also a very targeted and through the prism of scaling and investing in new business, it was a little bit cart before the horse. We had to focus the resources on building this larger platform. We fully expect to bring that fan base into the platform down the road.”
The Criterion Channel will be launching later this year, but as Reilly said, Warner Bros. has a large library of classic that are not in the Criterion Collection. TCM is also a valuable asset on basic cable. A classic movies library would fill that gap for cord cutters who won’t have TCM access anymore.
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