WarnerMedia’s ‘House of Max’ Studio Aims to Pair Programs, Characters With Ads

Sex and the City
Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

When Carrie Bradshaw appeared on HBO, she didn’t have much to do with commercials. When she appears on HBO Max, the character may find a staff eager to find ways to set her up with new kinds of advertising.

WarnerMedia’s ad sales division is launching a new studio, House of Max, that aims to develop commercials for advertisers that utilize characters and concepts from its various shows. The company has developed a wide array of programs, says Maureen Polo, senior vice president of entertainment marketing solutions for WarnerMedia, in an interview, and they can be used to “allow brands to make more thoughtful and meaningful connections” with consumers. She adds: “We can produce content that doesn’t feel like advertising.”

The new House aims to ramp up work for advertisers starting in the fourth quarter of 2021, and will make available intellectual property from its HBO Max library, which includes programs such as “Hacks,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Gossip Girl” and “And Just Like That,” a sequel series to the popular HBO program, “Sex and the City.”  Shows crafted mainly for the HBO pay-cable service do not seem to be included in any offering at present. House of Max will also work to create work that could run on WarnerMedia’s entertainment-focused TV networks, as well as social-media outlets.

House of Max debuts as Madison Avenue eagerly pushes to move advertising that once ran on linear TV into new streaming frontiers. WarnerMedia launched an ad-supported version of HBO Max in June, and Polo says ads created by her team have already run there for clients hailing from the auto, insurance, and fast-food sectors. She declined to name specific advertisers.

Streaming venues give advertisers the chance to speak to customers in more direct fashion. Because shows are watched on-demand, audiences for the programs are significantly smaller than the ones who tune in during primetime, and subscriber and location data helps advertisers know much more about the type of consumer who is watching. And as traditional TV ratings decline, more advertisers are trying to make smarter use of streaming audiences.

The rush to streaming helped buoy the media industry’s recent “upfront” ad sales session, when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for the next programming cycle. WarnerMedia disclosed in March that it had won $80 million in commitments for the ad-supported version of HBO Max., which runs just four minutes of ads per hour and runs commercials in “pre roll and “mid roll” slots.  In recent discussions with advertisers, WarnerMedia gave early consideration to agencies that made early investments in the streaming venue, according to executives familiar with the matter, helping to boost demand for its inventory.

Many TV outlets offer similar studio services. NBCUniversal has developed a “streaming council” that gives certain advertisers feedback on how digital ads performed. Fox News has partnered with a branded-content studio called Heve. CNN and Bleacher Report, both owned by WarnerMedia, have their own studios, Courageous and Playmaker.

Audiences have grown accustomed to seeing fewer ads in online portals and venues, says Polo. Indeed, Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime do not run traditional commercials in their programming. In these new environments, says Polo, audiences “want brands to create shows,” or content that is just as entertaining as the programs it supports. “We have to help brands be creative, add content and experiences that extends our shows and our stories.”

HBO has already tested these waters – well before its HBO Max counterpart was up and running. In 2019, WarnerMedia took part in a Super Bowl ad for Bud Light that utilized characters and themes from the popular series “Game of Thrones.” And Sarah Jessica Parker revived her Carrie Bradshaw character that same year for a Super Bowl spot for Stella Artois that also utilized Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude” from the movie “The Big Lebowski.”