The venture follows the launch of HBO Max with Ads in June. The lower-priced, ad-supported tier of the streaming service featured 35 initial advertisers and came after the debut of ad-free HBO Max in May 2020. The AVOD version of HBO Max competes with a number of “ad-lite” subscription services in the market. In the subscription game, major players range from well-established entities like Hulu and Paramount+ (an expansion of the six-year-old CBS All Access), and relative newcomers like Peacock and Discovery+.
Other streaming outlets and media companies have rolled out brand studios as they manage through a reordering of the TV landscape. Roku’s debuted earlier this year and Hulu’s in 2020. While linear viewing still exists at great scale, ratings are dropping and the push toward streaming has been accompanied by advertiser interest in the kind of targeting capabilities only possible in digital. Brand studios also afford flexibility in terms of what form brand messages take — House of Max can deliver long-form, episodic or anything in between. According to the official announcement, the main goal is to “create an effective environment that aligns with marketers’ goals and puts the viewer at the heart of the streaming experience.”
Maureen Polo will oversee House of Max, which will open its doors to clients in the fourth quarter of 2021. After leading social content agency Fullscreen, she joined WarnerMedia last year as SVP of Entertainment Marketing Solutions. The studio’s creative lead is Elaine Andrade, SVP and Executive Creative Director for WarnerMedia, who also joined from Fullscreen.
HBO has been increasingly willing to venture out into the brand world in recent years — witness the Game of Thrones-Bud Light mashup at the Super Bowl in 2019. Yet the premium network remains an expressly ad-free programming environment, despite strong nudges from uber-parent to adopt a more ad-curious stance. Accordingly, under the new brand studio setup, Max Originals like Hacks, Gossip Girl and The Flight Attendant can partner in brand studio efforts but not HBO shows like White Lotus or Mare of Easttown. (So much for that Rolling Rock-sponsored spinoff …)
As with HBO Max more broadly, the new venture will leverage the Turner ad sales organization’s capabilities, creating custom projects for Adult Swim Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS and other brands. Resources will include video production, motion design, photography and original music.
In an interview with Deadline, Polo declined to offer any specific brands or projects set up at House of Max, but said there has already been inbound interest and discussion. WarnerMedia has not offered updates on progress for HBO Max with Ads. Last week, parent AT&T revealed in its quarterly earnings report that HBO and HBO Max combined had 47 million subscribers as of June 30.
“House of Max builds upon WarnerMedia’s bountiful history and storytelling tradition with captivating, consumer-centric experiences,” Polo said in a press release. “Developed by an outstanding group of dynamic and diversified collaborators, House of Max’s insights-driven brand storytelling is a harmonious combination of art and science that furthers consumers’ curiosity while driving business outcomes for partners.”
Julian Franco, SVP of Product Management for HBO Max, said the company is seeing “great engagement” with its AVOD tier, with “customers telling us they enjoy and appreciate our short ad breaks and seamless ad experience.” Given that, he reasoned, House of Max “will help us provide an even better experience for our viewers, offering brand partners the opportunity to develop custom creative that fits in seamlessly with HBO Max’s premium content and interface.”