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Week In Review: HBO Max Puts Some Wins On The Board, ViacomCBS/Comcast Launch New Service In Europe

The six-episode Mike White series The White Lotus ended this week, but not before creating the sort of buzz that many had assumed was no longer possible around a TV show. It wasn’t Game Of Thrones level—that series had almost a decade to build up to the final season—but it was at the level of HBO’s previous buzzed-about limited series, Mare of Easttown

1. HBO Max Puts Some Wins On The Board

Why It Matters

One of the things we’ve been saying all along is that as much as analysts-with-charts want the streaming wars to be about those charts, at the end it is going to come down to content and who has the shows that people want to watch.

HBO was smart in that they are continuing to release their shows on a weekly basis, thus allowing them to build up steam and for people who did not catch the first few episodes to get up to speed before the finale. (Particularly key in a whodunit type of show like The White Lotus, where a Netflix-like all at once release schedule makes it really hard to keep the ending a secret and to create much buildup around it.)

It also quells the fears many of us had that the AT&T interlude had chased away all of the people at HBO who knew how to make really good shows..  

While we will have to see how and if this affects Max’s subscriber numbers, it’s definitely keeping the service front and center of the media buzz, which is not nothing.

While HBO is claiming that around 1.9 million viewers watched The White Lotus finale live, there’s no telling how many more will watch it on demand over the next few weeks. And even if that number does not go much higher, the value to HBO is going to be in the ongoing buzz, sort of the way that Mad Men frequently had less than one million viewers per episode but garnered tremendous buzz for AMC, which allowed them to get other popular programming (The Walking Dead) and charge higher carriage fee rates. 

Point being, the more the perception exists that HBO Max has the sort of programming everyone is talking about, the more top name talent is  going to want to continue to work with HBO, the less people are going  to decide to put the app on hiatus. Once the Discovery merger goes through and the offering includes Discovery+ and CNN+, the notion that this is a must-have app is only going to become even more pronounced.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re HBO, just keep making more shows like this, the sort of series that you’re known for, shows that can get a good percentage of the blue state educated media-savevy buzzing about.

If you’re a rival streaming service, it’s probably a mistake to try and copy HBO. Better to find a different niche that appeals to a different type of audience and make that the thing you are known for.

If you’re Netflix, it’s been a while since you owned the buzz cycle for a new show. The Queen’s Gambit was last summer. Just sayin’.

But it’s always going to come down to programming and the fact is that it’s really tough to create a hit. There’s no magic formula you can plug in to create a show that people are going to want to watch, and the industry is full of TV series and movies with all-star casts and all-star writers, directors and producers that wound up being massive flops.

And as I am fond of pointing out, no formula could have predicted that a series about a quasi-Medieval fantasy world with wizards and dragons and a cast of largely unknown European actors would because the past decades biggest hit.

Final note: do not listen to pitches that promise something to the effect of “like White Lotus but on a cruise ship!” 

Because there will no doubt be a whole lot of those.

2. ViacomCBS/Comcast Launch New Service In Europe

Confirming rumors from a few weeks back, ViacomCBS and Comcast are going to launch a joint venture (50/50) app for the European market. Called SkyShowtime, the app will feature programming from Showtime, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Paramount+, Sky Studios, Universal Pictures, and Peacock.

The footprint of the new service will not overlap with that of a similar joint venture that the two companies are rolling out in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria that will see Comcast-owned Sky offering access to Paramount+.

Why It Matters

Fact: The industry is contracting as part of the natural cycle of things and companies with the greatest scale will prevail.

ViacomCBS joining forces with Comcast makes a lot of sense given their similar backgrounds in broadcast and massive libraries of popular programming. A merger or even a joint venture in the U.S. is going to be tricky due to all the regulations about that sort of thing. (Largely outdated regulations, I might add, given that they were designed for a pre-internet world.)

That leaves working together overseas as the best option, and the deals, which combine Comcast’s distribution capabilities via Sky with ViacomCBS’s content is a strong win, especially as many of their competitors (HBO) struggle to get similar distribution channels in place.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Viacom and CBS, keep on doing what you are doing, the more you can create facts on the ground overseas, the easier it might be to convince Congress and the FCC that the world won’t end if you can market Peacock, Paramount+ and your other streaming properties together.

Also kudos on recognizing that “Sky” has more name recognition in Europe than “Peacock”and not being too proud to make the switch. (See what I did there?)

If you’re Congress and the FCC, time to rethink those outdated regulations.

If you’re a European viewer in Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Kosovo, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden, then this is great news for you as you’ll get two pools of excellent programming for the price of one.