Mary McNamara: HBO's Casey Bloys isn't worried about AT&T, Netflix or the end of 'Game of Thrones'

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Casey Bloys isn't worried.

Other people may be wringing their hands over the future of HBO: How will it fill the hole left by "Game of Thrones"? Can its "only on HBO" brand survive under the "more is more" mandate of AT&T? With so much talent, including "Game of Thrones" creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, making deals with Netflix and Amazon, does that brand even matter anymore? Is HBO's 20-year reign over the art form formally known as television coming to an end? And if so, what hope is there for any other legacy platform?

Oh, and can someone please explain what HBO Max is, and will it come free with an HBO subscription?

Yes, many people are worried about HBO. But after three years as HBO's head of programming, much of it spent dealing with an ownership switch, Bloys, 47, does not appear to be one of them. Whether or not he screamed into his pillow when Benioff and Weiss told him their plans for ending one of the biggest shows in television is unknowable. Of their Netflix deal, he says that HBO dropped out of the bidding "fairly early on, when it became clear their ask did not make economic sense for HBO or WarnerMedia."

Beyond some finger crossing for Emmy night, Bloys is not concerned about "Game of Thrones." He'd rather talk about how everyone is finally discovering how great "Succession" is, or the unexpectedly wild excitement over "Chernobyl." He's happy to discuss the youth-skewing success of "Euphoria," or HBO's first dip into the comic book universe, with the upcoming "Watchmen," or its first collaboration with Stephen King -- even though "The Outsider" won't premiere until 2020. People have always monitored the fate of HBO with the anxious intensity usually reserved for sports teams or the auto industry. Bloys, who has been at the network for 15 years, is happy everyone cares so much, but he is not fretting over the future.

He's excited.

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He dismisses concerns that AT&T, HBO's new owner, is forcing a mass-production mind-set onto a platform known for bespoke television. Yes, the recently announced 2019 fall slate -- the first made up exclusively of shows developed during his tenure as programming chief -- reflects a 50% growth in programming hours. But, as he has said repeatedly, that was the plan long before AT&T's takeover of Time Warner.

"We needed more programming," he said in a rare 90-minute interview. "That was very clear. The growing number of digital subscribers can turn you off very quickly. You can't have two shows a year and imagine people will sit by and wait for them. You have to have more."

But that doesn't mean he believes in binge buying. There may be a small increase in 2020, but beyond that, he says, increasing HBO's programming hours might be tough, and there has been no pressure from AT&T to do so. "We're never going to approach the volume of the streaming services. I don't think we could, and it's not what we do."

Still, the network is not oblivious to the competition. HBO's new "recommended by humans" ad campaign is an obvious attempt to differentiate itself from the algorithmic recommendations generated by Netflix.


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