Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront Focuses on Big Franchises Like ‘Harry Potter’; David Zaslav Confident NBA Will Return to TNT Sports

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Warner Bros. Discovery kept up with TV upfronts week’s biggest trend at their presentation out of The Theater at Madison Square Garden Tuesday: Promoting not just its TV slate as a prime ad-buying opportunity — but also its film franchises.

First up from CEO David Zaslav’s team, WB Discovery revenue and strategy chief Bruce Campbell addressed the Madison Avenue crowd following a sizzle featuring top WBD IP and brands across film and TV series. Then Mindy Kaling took the stage to promote her Max comedy “The Sex Lives of College Girls” before introducing HBO and Max chairman and CEO Casey Bloys.

“I know when you look at me, you see a young, beautiful mother,” Kaling said. “The truth is I am an old Max veteran. I was here way back when Max was HBO Max, it was this whole other thing. It was just me, ‘Tom & Jerry’ reruns and that show about the Heaven’s Gate cult. It’s completely different now — though, let me be clear: there are still great shows about cults and there never will not be. Because Casey Bloys loves cults. He told me that personally.”

UPFRONTS 2024View Variety‘s full coverage.

And it’s true, Bloys confirmed it himself when he came out and touted the one-year anniversary of Max, the rebranded, combined HBO Max-Discovery+ streaming service. Bloys’ chunk of the show also included new footage and images from “House of the Dragon” Season 2, the upcoming “Dune” prequel series “Dune: Prophecy,” the third season of “The White Lotus” and “The Last of Us” Season 2.

Bloys also brought out “And Just Like That” star Sarah Jessica Parker to talk about the legacy of “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw, and “Hacks” stars Hannah Einbinder and Paul W. Downs (who is also co-creator of the Max original) to showcase their comedic chops.

“It’s early days for Max as we are only now approaching our first anniversary. Since the launch we continue to attract audiences in a variety of unique ways,” Bloys said. “As we grow we remain focused on providing more and more reasons to make Max the one to watch. Subscribers are now looking to us for live news on CNN Max and we’re also offering can’t-miss live sports with B/R sports on Max. This blends seamlessly with HBO, Max originals, Magnolia and a powerful mix of shows from Discovery, TLC, HGTV, ID, Food, TCM, Adult Swim and others.”

The HBO and Max boss made sure to highlight the power of Warner Bros. films on streaming, noting the draw that “Barbie” and “Wonka” have had on streaming so far, and the anticipation for “Dune 2” to hit Max next week.

U.S. networks chairman and CEO Kathleen Finch got an intro from Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty,” before coming out to reveal a few bit cable announcements, including news of a “Harry Potter” baking competition at Food Network, the plot of the upcoming “Rick and Morty” anime series, John Cena as host of this year’s “Shark Week” programming at Discovery, and a new HGTV series reuniting “Flip or Flop” stars Tarek El Moussa and Christina Hall post-divorce.

“We are the most powerful creators of unscripted content across platforms and places,” Finch said. “We draw the biggest collective audience in cable, and provide an unparalleled way to reach consumers in a trusted environment. Our shows, franchises and brands continue to deliver value to consumers and advertisers on linear and on Max. Regardless of how or where they watch, viewers come to WBD for our addictive content. Only at WBD could we bring one of the biggest action stars face-to-face with the ocean’s biggest predators as John Cena hosts this year’s Shark Week, and also travel to Hogwarts in an innovative new way.”

Like Bloys, Finch touted how her division is utilizing WB films to woo advertisers, pointing to TNT as the cable home for airings of “The Batman,” “Dune” and “Black Adam.”

Elsewhere in the presentation, CNN boss Mark Thompson revealed his working strategy for the news network’s programming, from the daily news content to original series and films, and the TNT Sports team came out to field a speed round of season predictions.

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Speaking more specifically to WBD’s ad offering, U.S. ad sales chief Jon Steinlauf gave the corporate pitch: “While many streamers have increased their ad loads with some now up to 10 minutes an hour, Max averages less than four minutes — to give you more impact and engagement. Ad-supported Max is showing impressive growth. The subscriber base has doubled over the last two years. Half of our new signups are choosing Max with ads. We now simulcast all TNT and TBS live sports on Max. About 50% of those live sports viewers are without pay TV. Over the last year we’ve seen more excitement for our sponsorships and our ad offerings. Premier brands like Mercedes and Google have sponsored some of our biggest original series. And here there are more opportunities ahead.”

WBD sports chief Luis Silberwasser addressed the fate of the NBA on TNT as chatter continues to focus on new basketball deals at NBC and Amazon, potentially edging WBD out. But the NBA remains a critical part of the TNT Sports strategy — to the point that Silberwasser called the network’s studio show “Inside the NBA” the “best show on TV.” The fate of that show would seem to be up in the air should basketball disappear from the network’s schedule.

But to emphasize its importance, the WBD upfront ended with Shaquille O’Neal chatting with Conan O’Brien — and displaying his importance to advertisers via all of his endorsement deals.

“It’s insane how many endorsements you have,” O’Brien joked. “You can’t possibly know all the endorsements you have. In the time that Shaq’s been out here, he has signed deals with the following products: The Shaq and Decker circular saw. The Shaqbook laptop. The Shake Shack Shaq. Shaq Plaque Attack Dental Floss. Shaq Zodiac tarot cards. Shaq Kerouac On the Road Travel Books. The Cheesecake Shaqtory. Shaq Tac Toe. Shaqamole. That’s a fun game. And finally, Shaq oat milk for the Shaqtose intolerant.”

Michael Schneider contributed to this story.

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