HBO Max International Boss Uses Netflix to Set The Bar for Global Domination

Netflix may not have been at the MipTV market in Cannes in any substantial way this year, but the service was certainly front and center in a keynote by HBO Max International boss Johannes Larcher.

In a bold presentation, Larcher pointed to his competitor’s international might as a motivating factor for HBO Max’s own growth outside the U.S. In a number of slides dedicated solely to Netflix, the former Hulu exec highlighted the projected growth in Netflix’s international subscribers from 2021 to 2026 (147 subscribers in 2021 to an estimated 266 subscribers by 2026).

“Netflix is clearly reaching saturation in the domestic market. Where will growth come from? Only one place: outside the U.S.,” said Larcher, who was citing analyst estimates.

He also pointed out the streamer’s aggressive content spend, which he expects to grow from $12 billion in 2021 to $21 billion by 2026.

“$9 billion additional programming dollars buys a lot of content,” the executive warned. “That buys you almost 700 episodes of ‘The Crown,’ 50 ‘Spider Man: No Way Home’ movies. That ability to spend more on content on behalf of fans drives the need to go global.”

A streamer can only afford such dizzying levels of content spend, continued Larcher, “if you can leverage the investment over a larger number of subscribers. That’s why all of us desire to go global.”

The executive was upfront about a plateauing performance for HBO’s pay-TV operations in Europe prior to the launch of HBO Max. “They weren’t growing,” he said candidly of the pre-SVOD footprint.

But with HBO Max now launching in earnest in Europe, all of that is changing. “We have every ambition to be one of three leading players globally,” said Larcher. “When we show up in a country and compete, we actually do very well.”

HBO Max outside the U.S., which had 27 million subscribers by December 2021, is leaning into “different elements” of the service. It is “heavily emphasizing” core IP such as “Sex and the City” and “Game of Thrones” — shows that are more likely to be household names in global markets — as well as local originals. “There are slight variations on how we position our brand market by market,” said Larcher.

In Europe, the streamer will grow from 10 originals in 2019, to a development pipeline for 2023 that includes about 40 originals.

Larcher also briefly discussed the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger, which is set to close on Monday (April 11). “In broadest terms, we’re very excited about it,” he said.

“I think the audiences and the content are quite complementary. Discovery content will help with that. It will diversify our content, our service…we have a shared vision of what the product should be in terms of packaging and how we go to market.”

Larcher joined WarnerMedia in August 2020, and has been overseeing the international rollout of HBO Max, which will mark its two-year anniversary since launching Stateside on May 27, and its one-year anniversary in Europe this spring. The dual U.S.-Austrian national had previously worked for Dubai-based MBC Group.

Larcher worked at Hulu from 2009 to 2013 and served as senior VP for international. He was responsible for all of Hulu’s activities outside the U.S. Notably, he launched and ran Hulu’s successful unit in Japan. In January 2019, he became head of digital operations at Dubai-based MBC Group, the leading Middle Eastern free-to-air satellite network, where he oversaw the launch of its Shahid VIP streaming service, which in a few months skyrocketed from 100,000 subscriptions to more than one million.

HBO Max has been ubiquitous at international events in recent months, with WarnerMedia ensuring its executives are visible and accessible when it comes to wooing the European production community.

HBO Max is currently streaming in 21 European countries with Central and Eastern Europe, Portugal and the Netherlands joining the Nordics, Spain and Andorra. The platform hasn’t yet launched in key markets like the U.K., France and Germany due to legacy output deals that are still running their course, but the service aims to be in 190 countries by 2026.

At a jam-packed Series Mania event last month, five members of the HBO Max EMEA team engaged in a detailed session that set out the streaming service’s priorities for scripted drama. “We still want shows that are bold; not re-trends of other shows. We’re always looking for shows that can move a genre forwards,” said Antony Root, executive VP and head of original production for WarnerMedia EMEA.

The executive revealed the streamer’s four pillars for local originals: Local first; broad appeal; distinctive storytelling; and a diverse slate.

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