TV Upfronts

WBD Unveils Max Ad Options Ahead of Launch, New Streaming Products at Upfront

Sports, news and unscripted content took center stage

Max is nearly here, and Warner Bros. Discovery wants brands to know it.

During Warner Bros. Discovery’s Wednesday morning upfront week presentation at New York’s The Theater at Madison Square Garden, the company unveiled the full roster of advertising solutions for the ad-supported tier of the combined HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming service, launching May 23.

The usual celebrity-filled extravaganza had a notable lack of talent due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. Still, plenty of executives took the stage to tout the company’s cable and streaming prowess.

“What you’re about to see is not exactly the show we expected to do today,” said ad sales chief Jon Steinlauf. “We made the decision to only have executives on the stage out of respect for our talent, and the WGA.”

Though the company went with just executives for the presentation, CEO David Zaslav—who’s been a major talking point among strikers—did not appear onstage.

Max-imum ad options

With less than a week until Max launches, advertisers got a glimpse of the offerings they can expect from the new streaming service.

Max will continue to offer the light ad load that HBO Max has become known for, and WBD’s ad strategy consists of a three-pronged approach: reach, reward and interact.

On the reach side, Max will have traditional 15-second pre-roll ads before certain content, as well as 15- and 30-second mid-roll video as part of a 30- or 60-second ad pod. There will also be a “takeover” option, where a brand can be the first ad all users see on the platform for a day, with ownership of the pre- and mid-roll ad in each consumer’s first stream.

Designed to “reward” subscribers with an enhanced viewing experience, the Brand Block offering will let a brand exclusively own every ad within a piece of content, and InFront will let brands sponsor an exclusive, ad-free experience and eliminate all mid-roll advertising. Instead, viewers will watch ads before content playback begins.

Pause ads will be utilized, as well as interactive ads. Those include mid-roll offerings like a one-click reveal where users can see a surprise message, promotion or trivia answer after scrolling; and carousel, an ad experience where brands can showcase multiple products.

Other interactive ads include extendable, where consumers can open a branded hub on mobile or connected TV devices; and locator, which encourages in-store purchases with information on nearby merchants.

“We’re not new to this,” JB Perrette, CEO and president, global streaming and games, Warner Bros. Discovery, said during Wednesday’s presentation. “We understand what we’re doing from our legacy of working with advertisers and streaming both here in the U.S. on the HBO Max and Discovery+ platforms, and also abroad in Europe, that you can collaborate with us to maximize your exposure.”

For Max’s launch, the company is in the middle of the “biggest marketing campaign ever,” according to Perrette.

“We’re equally excited about our pathways to keep building a future that deeply involves you, our advertisers,” he said.

Max with Ads will launch at $9.99 per month or $99.99 for the year.

Sports and news reign supreme

Though Warner Bros. Discovery kicked off its presentation touting streaming platforms Max and Discovery+, the company quickly dove into its news and sports content.

CNN CEO Chris Licht took the stage and unveiled a new on-air graphics package launching in June. Licht also revealed that Kaitlan Collins will officially step in as the network’s new 9 p.m. anchor.

“CNN’s role in society has never been more critical than it is right now,” Licht said. “We are in critical times, and no one can cover those times like CNN can, on every platform, as it happens.”

The NBA on TNT team took the stage in a pre-recorded segment, giving a pitch to advertisers through a riff on the halftime show.

Luis Silberwasser, chairman and CEO of WBD Sports, emphasized the group’s strong sports portfolio, including baseball, NBA, NHL, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the national women’s and men’s soccer tournaments. The Stanley Cup also appeared onstage—the only talent that wasn’t a WBD executive.

Linear pushing unscripted content

The final segment of the show took the lid off Max content, with Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO and Max content, also acknowledging the lack of celebrities on stage.

“I am hopeful that a fair resolution is found soon with the writers that would, of course, return talent to the stage—let’s be honest, making this a far more entertaining show,” said Bloys.

The company highlighted upcoming Max originals, including a second season of the Pretty Little Liars spinoff, new seasons of Hacks and Tokyo Vice, as well as the premiere of DC’s The Penguin.

“Chip and Joanna Gaines and Magnolia Network also feature prominently in our overall strategy,” said Bloys about Max’s debut.

Adweek’s latest Media Visionary, Conan O’Brien, is also coming to Max with the launch of his new series Conan O’Brien Must Go, an international travel series currently in production. O’Brien had previously teased an upcoming show on HBO Max after leaving late-night television, but it’s unclear if this is the project he first mentioned.

Max added to its roster of talent with Robert Downey Jr. in the new series Downey’s Dream Cars, where the star tries to reimagine classic cars.

On the linear side, a pre-recorded Guy Fieri introduced Kathleen Finch, chairman and chief content officer of the U.S. networks group, who unveiled a new slate of content, including Ellen DeGeneres’ return to TV with a series about saving gorillas.

Reality show Barbie Dream House will be arriving on TLC, and TBS is bringing back The Joe Schmo Show and introducing new original Dinner and a Movie.

Shark Week is also returning to Discovery again, and this year Jason Momoa will host.

Even more capabilities

As the company preps for Max’s rollout, a new digital video product—WBD Stream—will also be available to advertisers this upfront.

The solution brings together the company’s ad products from across Discovery+ and HBO Max into a single suite of services, available on Max, Discovery+ and WBD’s full suite of digital video assets.

“A lot of our positioning to advertisers will be not only is Max the one to watch, it’s the one to buy,” Jim Keller, evp, digital ad sales and advanced advertising, told Adweek ahead of the presentation. “It’s the one that should anchor your video strategy, your streaming strategy.”

The product is designed to allow advertisers to maximize reach across multiple screens and devices, and WBD Stream includes digital inventory from owned and operated sites and apps and third-party partnerships with dynamic ad insertion.

“This is a huge reach play, but also a huge targeting play,” said Keller.  

Advertisers can use audience targeting to leverage internal data or WBD’s 140 audience segments. WBD Stream will be sold separately from advertising for Max and Discovery+ and will run across all OTT offerings.

Ahead of the upfront, WBD announced measurement and attribution partnerships with 605, ABCS Insights, Disqo, EDO, LoopMe and Pilotly for linear, digital and advanced audiences.

“We’ve been working hard at WBD, along with the rest of the industry, to be able to count the reach and frequency of [all audiences] with the VideoAmps and the Comscores of the world, which we’ve already announced,” Andrea Zapata, evp, head of ad sales research, told Adweek. “From a currency perspective, it’s not just the totality of our streaming and our linear, it’s also about how you get targeted and more optimized, and ultimately, how you show efficacy.”

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