The Hot Button
The Hot Button
THB #109: Game of Platforms

THB #109: Game of Platforms

I’m not getting drawn into another newsletter about the newest revelation from The Academy Of Immobile Panic Buttons & Excuses and Will “Hulk, Jr” Smith. If you are interested, check out my Twitter feed @DavidPoland for details and disgust.

What struck me as interesting today was the release of the launch date for House Of The Dragon and what seems to be a dragon who is in bad need of a facial.

Notice that the release from Warner Media, e-mailed from “HBO & HBO Max PR” features only HBO Max on the teaser poster.

I thought to myself, “Wow! That is a ballsy and interesting move from Kilar!”

But right there at the top of the release was, “The ten-episode HBO Original drama HOUSE OF THE DRAGON debuts SUNDAY, AUGUST 21 on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.”

So, 100% business as usual. HBO is the release network and HBO Max is another way to see what is an HBO program.

Then I thought… why?

The finale of Game of Thrones drew a bit over 19 million people that week and surely many more (another couple million?) since then.

It was said that the last episodes of Game cost $20 million each or so. A lot. But not so much these days. I’m willing to estimate, without any judgement of it, that House of the Dragon will cost $30 million an episode, from the start. That’s not an average hour budget, but these days, it is not shocking.

So let’s say Warner Media is $300 million deep in production on the first season, plus some additional rights costs, etc.

Last year, Warner Media had Godzilla v Kong, Dune, and Matrix Resurrections, each of which, after cleaning up for Kilar’s premature evacuation of the films to HBO Max day-n-date, had a similar price tag… each one.

And the losses in potential box office revenue they took, intentionally and willfully, in theatrical for all three movies were rationalized by proclaiming a great influence on additional HBO Max subs, which for the year were about 7 million subscribers.

Of course, there was a content spend of, literally, more than a couple billion dollars in addition to the movies that were Project Popcorned onto day-n-date streaming.

Why is House of the Dragon more highly valued as exclusively HBO content than any of the other material is prized within its normal release method?

This is not just about Warner Media or Warner Bros Disco or whatever this company is about to evolve into. This is a Kareem Daniels question at Disney, a question for Comcast/NBC/Universal, for Paramount, Sony, and Amazon/MGM. Apple and Netflix are in their own alternate space, for now.

Media keeps reporting which company is making this many “movies” and this many “series” and this many “limited series,” but also constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, mostly putting theatrical content into streaming ASAP… which is really not the story.

If everything is in play, everything needs to start being in play.

Why don’t people paying for HBO Max (which is everyone with HBO) get the new major show on Saturday, a day early? Why isn’t every episode of the new epic series premiering in a bunch of IMAX theaters (phones in bags, please) with a couple cast members streamed in after the show for $25 a ticket on Friday night?

300 IMAX screens would be, what, 60,000 people/$1.5 million? Not a cash cow. But a great piece of obsessive fan promotion.

What would a Saturday release only on HBO Max do? Saturday night is a dead TV night. The combined Saturday/Sunday rating would be accepted by the press. Unless the show sucks, there is no downside. But it creates value in people using the HBO Max app. Maybe it stays on there and it adds viewers all day on Sunday or maybe they make it a “premiere only” thing where it’s available only from 7p eastern/4p pacific until 11pm eastern/8p pacific. I don’t know the details well enough to feel strongly about how they do it.

For some reason, all but a few cases of creative re-purposing in this era of change have been about theatrical movies that were already being made or were finished when then pandemic began just after most of the streaming services launched.

But we are getting to the end of the hump. Streamers are still finding their feet. Disney has a lot working, but the Hulu piece still a bit unsettled. No one knows what exactly Zaz (we play handball on Wednesdays now and talk about other newsletters) is going to do. Amazon is absorbing. Apple is celebrating. And Peacock and Paramount+ are doing an effective dog paddle for now.

The future is streaming. It will probably take longer than expected and AVOD will be more prominent than expected, but streaming (the delivery method) will be 80%+ of TV soon enough.

So when are we going to see some bigger swings… some fresher ideas?

There was a lot of Twitter chatter about why The Academy Awards were not live streaming, presumably on Hulu. The answer is, I don’t know. But I do know that that can’t be a ton of downside on doing it… just straight live feed, including the sold ad spots. Affiliates issues? Maybe, but there are ways to regionalize a feed so local stations get their logo and even, if you want, their ads if you are watching in their region.

Bravo has a new variation of Below Deck launching on Peacock and I suspect it will eventually air on Bravo proper as the variation of Real Housewives has. Over on AMC+, I’m getting Killing Eve a week before it airs on BBC America. I don’t even know why, but I get Showtime’s Billions and Super Pumped available to watch on Saturday night, while the shows premiere on Sunday night.

I’m sure there are other quirky opportunities I don’t even realize are happening.

But what if every Bravo show - or all but a few exceptions - was available a day early or a week early if you had a paid subscription to Peacock? What about the NBC shows?

Peacock and Paramount+ are relying heavily on unpaid AVOD, but if the math is better on ad-free monthy subs - and why offer them if they are not - why not maximize that goal?

I am happy to pay an extra $6 a month for the ad-free Hulu in the Disney Bundle. Many people are not. What added incentives can be offered? I don’t think people even need to use benefits to be more likely to buy into packages that offer them. The challenge is to assert upscaled benefits without devaluing the AVOD proposition on something like Hulu.

But that is where we are.

Another cool incentive is on MLB.TV. I’ve been a subscriber for years, as I am a fan of an east coast team and live in Los Angeles. A great innovator in streaming to every platform. Anyway, I am also a YouTubeTV subscriber and they offer the service on your digital dial. So for the same price, I now have every live game pop up into my guide and don’t have to switch to the MLB.TV app, which also makes watching stuff during commercial breaks easy. But I worried… do I have to watch baseball through the YouTubeTV app when not at home? No. Baseball has made it work so with my paid subscription, I also get the app, where there is also radio coverage and live stats and more that no form of YouTubeTV offers. Home run for the consumer.

Point is, not every streamer needs their own Netflix Content Waterfall.

Give your customers enough to make them happy. Then add 50%. And that is probably enough to keep your subscribers. That isn’t really more than 5 new added programs (series or movie length) a week.

Time to get creative.

Until tomorrow…

The Hot Button
The Hot Button
An inside perspective on the Film/TV/Streaming Industry from a 30-year veteran seeker of truth.