HBO Head Casey Bloys Talks ‘Succession,’ DC Comics and International Programming
(Bloomberg) -- For Casey Bloys, things are starting to return to normal.
Bloys, the chief content officer of HBO and HBO Max, is once again throwing glitzy premiere parties for the return of series like “Succession” and “Insecure,” and collecting Emmy awards for shows like “Mare of Easttown,” “Last Week Tonight” and “I May Destroy You.” With fewer pandemic-driven production delays, HBO’s pipeline of shows is largely back on track.
And yet, Bloys is approaching what he calls “a big unknown.” Sometime in the middle of next year, HBO’s parent, WarnerMedia, is expected to merge with Discovery Inc. The CEO of the new combined company, David Zaslav, has yet to share a detailed vision of the future of HBO and HBO Max. It’s the type of uncertainty to which Bloys and his HBO colleagues have grown accustomed, having gone through something similar just three years ago when AT&T Inc. bought HBO’s former owner, Time Warner.
Speaking via video from his home in Los Angeles, Bloys discussed why Sunday night Twitter chatter is consumed by “Succession,” whether the streaming service could find an international hit like “Squid Game” and a recent milestone in the shift of viewership from HBO to HBO Max.
You just premiered Season 3 of “Succession.” It seems like that’s all people talk about on Twitter on Sunday nights. Why do you think the show has resonated with viewers?
Well, like any good HBO show, there is a larger conversation. On one level, everybody’s got a family, and everybody can relate to sibling rivalry and wanting your parents’ love or attention. But also we live in a very unequal society and wealth inequality is growing. And this is one way to look at it — from the inside.
So it’s not just a family drama. There’s business intrigue. To your point, people on Twitter tend to be people who work in media and so maybe recognize people they’ve worked with. But I also think it’s making a comment, and it’s making us have conversations about the power that a smaller number of families get, especially in media.
“Succession” averaged about 5 million viewers per episode last season. So it’s not your biggest show in terms of viewers. What metrics do you use when deciding whether a show is successful?
It’s 5 million viewers and growing. What we’ve seen is with the release of the third season is a lot of people going back to season one and season two. We’re seeing those seasons get increasing viewership, especially on HBO Max, as people catch up and it becomes a word-of-mouth phenomenon.
A very easy one is awards attention. It won an Emmy for best drama, which is very prestigious and a big deal for us so we’re proud of that. And I would say that probably adds to the brand halo of HBO — that it’s the home of quality storytelling. But all shows have different jobs to do. We certainly have shows that do bigger numbers and those that do smaller numbers. And my job is to kind of make sure that mix is healthy and good and interesting.
What is your pitch to talent these days? Has it changed as you’ve faced more competition?
Our pitch to creators is we’re going to do what we always do, which is work with people who have interesting stories to tell, give them thoughtful feedback and launch their shows in a way that hopefully everybody is proud of. So that hasn’t changed at all.
HBO Max gives us the opportunity to go after a slightly broader audience. One audience is young adults like with “Gossip Girl” or Mindy Kaling’s show, “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” We’re doing a “Pretty Little Liars” reboot for next year. Some of our reality programming is specifically for a younger adult audience.
Also, we’ve got our first new DC show that we’re making for HBO Max called “Peacemaker” with John Cena. DC Comics is an area that HBO typically would not have gone into. HBO Max gives us the opportunity to do that. The DC brand and HBO don’t have a whole lot of overlap so that, in theory, is a different audience. And then, just a more sustained female-appeal offering. Shows like “Flight Attendant” or “Hacks.”
Besides DC, is there other intellectual property at WarnerMedia you’d like to do more with?
We’re doing “House of the Dragon.” There are certainly other Warner Bros. movies that we’ve talked about, but not any that are imminent that I would mention. Obviously, IP for a company like WarnerMedia is great because there are a lot of fans who are automatically interested in things that you’re doing.
But I’m not interested in that to the exclusion of other things. If you just think about what has resonated this spring and summer, “Mare of Easttown” was a terrific show that had no underlying IP. There wasn’t even a book or an article or anything like that. “The White Lotus” was not based on any underlying IP. That has always been important and will continue to be.
Are you still seeing any Covid-related production delays?
For the most part, the pipeline of shows is back up. There are still Covid protocols on shows. It’s still more expensive and more time-consuming to shoot during Covid. So for a lot of reasons, mostly for everybody’s health, we’d like to be outside of this. But we’ve done a pretty good job as a company and as an industry of figuring out how to shoot during a pandemic.
Netflix said recently that “Squid Game” is their most watched original series ever. Can you see something like that happening at HBO Max — where your most popular shows originate outside of the U.S.?
It’s certainly possible. I do think one of the benefits of streaming is it has introduced the idea, in the U.S., of being open to foreign language, either subtitled or dubbed. HBO has been producing international content for 20 years, and I think one of the things that HBO Max will allow us to do is to better surface that for the U.S.
How much involvement do you have in HBO Max’s international programming?
Historically, HBO had been set up region by region. In the U.K. we had an output deal. In Spain, we had an over-the-top service. In some places, it would be the “Home of HBO,” but it would have other programming along with it. So it was kind of regionalized.
We have somebody at HBO Max who coordinates with HBO Europe, HBO Latin America, HBO Asia. We’re trying to do a lot better job coordinating. If there is a show that we think has potential to not only resonate in the U.S. but also in other territories, that’s a win-win for everybody. So we’re trying to be much better about that.
Has the pending deal between HBO’s parent, WarnerMedia, and Discovery affected how you do business?
No, because we have our budget set for the next year or so. We can’t even start coordinating with them under the Justice Department rules so you really do have to continue to move forward and do what you’re doing. We’ve been through this relatively recently with a merger a few years ago so I think most people know the drill.
It’s a big unknown what they’re going to want to do, what we’re going to want to do. We just have to wait and see.
What is your latest thinking on releasing shows? Do you see any value in releasing multiple episodes or an entire season all at once?
We continue to have success with the weekly model. One of the reasons I like that is you have a whole industry of people who want to talk about TV and want to write about TV. And to put something out weekly takes advantage of that. It gets people talking and thinking about your shows.
We’ve had success on HBO Max with “Flight Attendant” and “Hacks” where we’ve done a hybrid release where it’s like two to three episodes per week, and I see value in that as well. We’ve experimented with dropping all episodes at once. I tend to like to get the benefit of things marinating in the culture, giving people time to talk about it and write about it, criticize it maybe, opine on it. Creators tend to like that as well.
Are there examples where you found viewership data to be helpful when making decisions?
Marketing will sometimes use it to figure out who is the best audience to target the show to. I’ve never used research for deciding whether to pick something up or deciding to make a creative change or anything like that. It’s certainly helpful to know who’s watching and what your audience looks like, and what a good mix is in terms of how much drama, how much comedy, how much reality. So, it can be helpful for those types of things. But for me, it has not been of use in a creative capacity at all.
Do you think there’s still confusion over HBO and HBO Max?
I think, at launch, no question. We had to sunset HBO GO and HBO Now. So it was certainly confusing to have multiple things with HBO and then multiple suffixes after. But I think as people interact with the product and see that HBO is still available within HBO Max and it’s a much broader offering, the more subscribers that we get, the less confusion there will be.
Can you can you share what percentage of people are watching a show on HBO versus HBO Max?
“Mare of Easttown” was the first show where a majority of viewing was on Max. But then “The White Lotus,” it was like 60% on Max. The shift from linear viewing to on-demand has been going on for the last 10 years.
What shows are you watching on other streaming services?
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