As HBO programming president Casey Bloys kicked off the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, he had one message for reporters: No, new parent company AT&T won’t be watering down his premium cable network.
A recent HBO town hall meeting following AT&T completing its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner—during which John Stankey, CEO of AT&T’s media businesses (which now includes HBO) indicated that he wanted to make the network bigger and broader with more shows, just like Netflix—raised questions about HBO’s future under its new parent company.
Stankey’s comments seemed to suggest that AT&T might try to change the very thing that has made HBO so distinctive, but Bloys declared that is not the case.
“There are no plans to dilute the HBO brand in favor of volume of programming,” he said. “No one has come to us and asked us to not do what we do, which is curate excellence.”
Bloys noted that Stankey clarified his comments during yesterday’s AT&T earnings call, when the exec said, “We want to invest more in original content while still retaining the high quality and unique brand position of HBO. This will further strengthen the HBO brand, enhance the customer experience, improve churn and drive more engagement with some of our most valued customers.”
To that end, “no one is asking us to sacrifice quality for volume. We’re really excited about the opportunity to do more,” said Bloys. “No one is asking us to take pitches of a Love Boat reboot.”
HBO CEO Richard Plepler has been lobbying to increase HBO’s programming budget for several years, said Bloys, so AT&T’s decision to pump more money into programming is “music to our ears.” With Time Warner keeping budgets tight as it focused on selling the company, “it’s the first time in a long time we’ve heard anyone talk about investing in programming.”
That additional budget will enable HBO to do “more of what we do,” said Bloys. “We can do more quality programming; the question is how much more, without losing that personal touch.”
HBO has famously sold itself to creatives as being more hands-on and nurturing than Netflix, which churns out too much content to make each of its releases feel special. “If you have 50 kids, you’re not going to every soccer game,” Bloys told The Wall Street Journal in January. “We go to every soccer game, and we’re the snack parents at every soccer game. That’s how we treat our talent.”
That soccer game approach, Bloys said today, is “not going to change” with a larger programming budget.
Shortly after Stankey’s town hall comments became public, Netflix broke HBO’s 17-year Emmy streak as the most-nominated network, landing 112 nominations to HBO’s 108.
“The Emmy nominations were not a surprise to us at all, given the volume of programming out there,” said Bloys, who congratulated Netflix on its Emmy nominations haul. “We’re very proud of having the most nominations as long as we did.”
Bloys said that HBO won’t alter its programming decisions as a result of falling behind Netflix in Emmy nominations.
During his executive session, Bloys also announced that HBO has officially greenlit a movie that will wrap up the Deadwood storyline.