John Stankey: HBO Max Will Appeal to ‘Entire Family’ With Broader Menu Than Disney Plus

Cynthia Littleton

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WarnerMedia’s HBO Max aims to compete against the Disney Plus streaming juggernaut next year by ensuring that the service’s content has plenty of appeal to viewers who are well past adolescence.

John Stankey, president-chief operating officer of AT&T and CEO of WarnerMedia, said Tuesday during a Q&A at the UBS Global TMT conference in New York that HBO Max is designed to offer a broader menu than what he described as the youthful focus of Disney Plus, the streaming service that has made a big splash with consumers since its Nov. 12 bow. HBO Max is scheduled to launch in May.

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“Disney Plus is a good product. They’ve done a nice job,” Stankey said. But with a focus on family-friendly programs, “its strength as a product to satisfy other members of the family — it’s not that deep. Max is,” Stankey told UBS analyst John Hodulik in a 40-minute session. The goal with HBO Max is to make sure that the range of shows are a help in “keeping all members of the family engaged,” Stankey said.

HBO Max will include some kid-focused animation from the vast Warner Bros. vault. But it’s clear from Stankey’s positioning that older youth and young adult demos are the target for HBO Max. “We’re making sure that there’s a good, stable offering for the late teens and twentysomething” users, Stankey said.

WarnerMedia has started discussions with cable operators about helping to distribute HBO Max as a means of promoting broadband service. He sees it as a no-brainer for cable operators who will be able to generate some revenue from HBO Max as they help bring in subscribers. “This keeps customers in the eco-system — it’s a friendly way to do that,” Stankey said.

He seemed to acknowledge that the talks with cable operators have been less than smooth so far. “Carriage agreement negotiations follow a particular construct and pattern,” Stankey said. “One of those things is that there’s an inordinate amount of time spent at the front end posturing. Then as the deadline approaches, a lot of work gets done in a very short period of time.”

Stankey also reiterated that the company is focused on making sure the HBO Max-centric content has broader appeal than some of HBO’s high-end fare, and that includes drawing kids that would otherwise not be drawn to HBO proper.

WarnerMedia needed to develop the HBO Max overlay for HBO service because the mothership brand “isn’t quite broad enough,” Stankey said.

“It doesn’t quite pick up some of those (demographic) segments. Most of your young kids in households are not thinking about the next HBO show they’re going to watch — god help us,” he added as an aside, presumably a reference to some of the edgier, adult-oriented material that airs on HBO’s commercial-free platform.

Stankey asserted that he doesn’t see the budding streaming wars as a “zero-sum” game for the major players that include Netflix and Disney because the services are going after different audiences.

“You’d be hard-pressed to suggest that Disney Plus is a replacement service for Netflix. Or you’d be hard-pressed to stay it’s a replacement service for Max,” Stankey said. “They’re addressing different segments.”

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