One Streaming TV Site to Rule Them All?

If you thought the flood of new shows being presented on, well, on all manner of video media for the last half decade was overwhelming, prepare your water-treading skills, brothers and sisters, because the deluge has barely begun!

The Great Race to Rule Streaming TV
by Jonah Weiner

When Nick Weidenfeld heard what happened at HBO last summer, he was thrilled. “Everyone I knew was texting that article around, saying, ‘What the [expletive]!’?” Weidenfeld, an independent TV producer, recently recalled. A lot of people who work in Hollywood were spooked by the news, but not him: “I thought it was amazing.”

Weidenfeld was discussing the events of June 19, 2018, as reported in The Times: Around noon that day, Richard Plepler, then HBO’s chief executive officer, met with his new boss, John Stankey, at the network’s Manhattan headquarters. AT&T had recently completed its $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner — whose holdings included Warner Bros. and HBO — and chose Stankey to head up the resulting umbrella company, WarnerMedia. Plepler’s conversation with Stankey, framed as a company town hall, unfolded before some 150 HBO employees, who soon discovered that the new guy had big changes in mind.

“It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey told Plepler. HBO’s tightly curated cluster of shows, released seasonally and in weekly batches, no longer amounted to a tenable strategy. “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month,” he said. “We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.” Ever more hours of overall watch-time were necessary to generate ever more data on viewing habits to help AT&T drive ever more lucrative “models of advertising” and subscriptions, Stankey declared. What was required of Plepler was a reconsidered network, “broad enough to make that happen,” as Stankey put it — because “we’ve got to make money at the end of the day, right?” When Plepler pointed out that HBO was already profitable, Stankey agreed, but then he added, “Just not enough.”

“It’s so good he said it,” Weidenfeld told me, sinking into a booth at Mama Shelter, a hotel in Hollywood where he likes to take working lunches and rough out deals. Weidenfeld, who is 39, sported a full beard and wore a color-blocked fleece pullover. His business lies in helping creators devise and develop shows, then in selling them to networks and platforms — and thanks to the industrywide hunger for “hours a day,” business is booming….

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