Everything and the Game of Thrones sink is what HBO Max aims to be and certainly what the upcoming AT&T-owned streamer unsuccessfully poured into its unwieldy and overloaded presentation today.
Or put another way, how many times can a revolving cast of executives mention or reference the Emmy winning blockbuster before it becomes a desperate drinking exercise that doesn’t seem know what flavor of Kool-Aid it wants to offer? The lingering taste is also that the whole shindig for investors and the media was overshadowed by a surprise announcement by HBO programming chief Casey Bloys near the end for a straight to series order of GoT spinoff House of the Dragons for the premium cabler itself. A reveal that tells you all you need to know about who is still the entree on this menu at the end of the day – which sort of renders the whole exercise redundant.
Certainly, the high production value event on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank was full of shock and awe, but that ended up proving rather hollow. The additional downside was that a meekly curated attempt to impress became mind numbing long before AT&T COO and heir apparent John Stankey and brass hustled behind the VIP ropes after their anti-climactic closing taking questions from investors.
Earlier, HBO Max Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly may have felt he had to stick it to forthcoming rivals like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, AppleTV+ and the House of Mouse controlled Hulu with a promise of “quality over quantity.” In an afternoon of staged lines onstage, it was pitched turn of phrase that never resonated any heat in the overly chilly Stage 21.
Additionally, with all those GoT shout-outs and sizzle reels (like below), onscreen data charts, a Davos dinner party of “really excited” and optimistic corner office residents and corresponding jargon, and a U-Haul of announcements and pick-ups, the Stankey kicked off event may have aimed to be comprehensive but really couldn’t see the consumer forest for the trees.
Right up to that press conference that wasn’t actually a press conference at the end, the presentation of “workhorse” HBO Max solidly stumbled in not offering up an actual specific takeaway of a launch date, way too many promises. Informing those in Stage 21 and watching the livestream that the service was coming in the window of May 2020 felt too vague too late in a potentially costly environment that will see households across America to pick carefully what they are willing to pay for month after month.
In that vein, the conglomerate learned little from the faceplant that Tim Cook suffered at the no date and no price AppleTV+ reveal in March and grabbed the scale but little of the soul of the Bob Iger driven Disney+ showcase back in April, the HBO Max rollout was around four different events badly smorgasborded into one.
Almost as long as Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Netflix flick The Irishman and nowhere nearly as dramatic, the nearly three-hour presentation had an arsenal of content, platform exploration and product experience, “all the bells and whistles” of marketing and distribution. Unfortunately, taking nearly two hours to tell us that the service would cost $14.99 a month, HBO Max’s dog and digital pony show lacked the necessary arch to guide the interested through what should have been peaks and valleys instead of corporate tundra. Encumbered by not being able to offer up a good reason beyond data migration for HBO Max if you already have HBO, the result was an overload of information that became a white noise blast radius when it should have been a lean and mean TKO.
“Isn’t this amazing?” asserted WB CEO Ann Sarnoff halfway through the relentless barrage as she rolled out the decades of movies from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Citizen Kane and up to The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix franchises and the costumed heroes and villains of DC Comics. Well, yes, but not overwhelmingly if you already have HBO Go or HBO Now.
Yes, the peek at Ridley Scott’s now HBO Max series Raised by Wolves was well in the wheelhouse perfected by GoT and Westworld and JJ Abrams strolling out to throw red meat hints of his next project raised the blood pressure. Video testimonials from the esteemed likes of Ava DuVernay, Mindy Kaling, Steven Soderbergh and Walking Dead alum Danai Gurira moved the action along and tried to establish a pace too. As is the contradiction intrinsic in a multi-pronged effort, all that and the overall creative ethos was deflated in the room by the canned cheer leading of executives and the legacy hoops they felt required to leap through repeatedly before revealing that price point that more than what AppleTV+ and Disney+ will cost put together.
So, grab your glass, take another swig and check out Watchmen and eventually that Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragons on HBO – that’s where the maximum action still is.