HBO clearly believes that content is king.
The cable channel behind “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” will increase its number of global original series hours by 50% to nearly 600 hours, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes told the investor-heavy crowd at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference on Tuesday. The content budget hovers at $2 billion, more than half of which goes to supporting homegrown shows and movies. The other money is used to license films.
Among the new programs are a daily news series from Vice Media and shows from “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart that Bewkes said are “aimed at millennials” (the generation cutting the cable cord) and will play well on mobile devices. To capture the audience as it migrates to an on-demand, streaming culture, HBO has launched a standalone digital service, HBO Now, which Bewkes said has nearly 1 million subscribers. Last month he pegged that figure at closer to 800,000.
Hailing the streaming service’s progress, which some analysts have groused is too slow, Bewkes said that he is not interested in toying with HBO Now’s $15 subscription price as a way to boost revenues. “We’re not trying to pursue the lower price strategy,” Bewkes said, adding, “If we think it would be optimized with different packaging or pricing, we can pursue that.”
Bewkes also seemed bullish on Warner Bros., predicting that a tentpole-heavy slate of would-be blockbusters such as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad” and the Harry Potter spin-off “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” would restore luster to the struggling studio. Time Warner’s film arm has been hit hard in recent years as old series such as “The Hobbit” have concluded and other high-profile efforts such as “Pan” and “Jupiter Ascending” have flopped.
Still, thanks to its video game and television business, Warner Bros. hit record profits last year. Bewkes predicted more of the same on that end, although he expects the theatrical business to be the main driver in 2016.
“It’s going to be another record year,” Bewkes said, adding, “We’ve got a big slate of new franchise films coming out and, as we all have seen, big tentpole global franchises have a bigger share of box office.”