House of the Dragon comes to HBO as Discovery cuts staff, changes strategy


It’s like it used to be at HBO – lots of scheming, betrayal, bloodshed.

Oh! And they have that on the screen too: House of the Dragonbetter known as The sequel to Game of Thrones, that’s really a prequel, but whatever it is, it better work, debuts this Sunday. I’ve seen the first episode and without breaking any embargoes, I can tell you that there is at least one dragon in it.

But it’s the behind-the-scenes drama at HBO and Warner Brothers Discovery, the company that owns the programmer plus CNN and Warner Bros. studio, which allows people in media land to chat. What exactly is happening to some of the world’s most legendary media brands? And for the rest of us, this all matters too: What’s going to happen to all the things we like to watch on our screens?

We got the latest chapter earlier this week, when HBOMax — the streaming service that includes both HBO and a bunch of other shows — let 70 people go. That’s 14 percent of the workforce, and it’s the first of several waves of layoffs at Warner Brothers Discovery that will last until the fall, sources say. And it comes on the heels of several moves — like killing CNN+ days after it launched, shutting down the finished batgirl movie before it was ever shown to the public, and pulling HBOMax made movies like Seth Rogen’s An American pickle and Anne Hathaway’s the witches from HBOMax — indicating that the company formerly known as WarnerMedia, once one of the most powerful media companies in the world, is now trying to downsize to survive.

It’s an almost complete inversion of the script that the previous owners of WarnerMedia used, and we can discuss the details in a minute. But the big picture is this: Remember the Netflix Chill I told you about earlier this year—Hollywood’s uneasy fear that the problems that brought Netflix to a halt would resurface in the rest of the media world? That is officially happening.

And it means the endless stream of movies and shows we’ve grown accustomed to won’t go on forever. Streaming isn’t going away – as much as some executives might want – but the endless budget that Big Media has thrown into it is finally coming to an end. Example: demi-mondea Big Deal sci-fi series from JJ Abrams — the producer/director who brought you Lost and the last round of Star Wars reboots and many other things you like and Hollywood values ​​- had to be an HBO show. But now it’s not because HBO won’t pay for its reported “mid-$200 million” budget.

Quick history lesson: The main idea behind AT&T’s acquisition of what was then called Warner Media — first announced in 2016 but only completed in 2018 — was that the phone company could turn HBO into its own Netflix and that Wall Street would reward AT&T for it. owns its own Netflix. So in 2021, when it became clear that investors didn’t care about AT&T’s media foray, the company flipped and dumped its entertainment assets to Discovery, the cable TV programmer best known for reality shows like 90 day fiancee.

But now Discovery has several problems. For starters, it has $53 million in debt, much of which was taken over with the Warner deal. Which means that instead of aggressively spending money to tackle Netflix and Disney, it will have to look under the couch cushions for change, and David Zaslav, the CEO of the newly combined company, has promised Wall Street that he will give $ 3 billion in cost savings. . somewhere.

But the bigger problem is one that everyone in streaming — including Netflix — is now grappling with: Wall Street no longer loves Netflix. Netflix’s stock, which hit a staggering $700 last fall, is now down 50 percent as the 10-year record boom in rocket numbers seems to be over: During the first six months of this year, it’s actually lost subscribers. So now Wall Street, which had encouraged media companies to adopt Netflix’s growth-first, profit-maybe-later strategy, wants them to change course. (A major exception to this: Amazon and Apple, which are tech companies that dabble in the media so they can basically spend whatever they want on programming: see Amazon’s Rings of Power — a trillion dollars Lord of the Rings prequel that should be very much from Amazon Game of Thrones. Not coincidentally, it will debut a few weeks later House of the Dragon.)

At Netflix, that means layoffs, an unprecedented move to add ads to a lower-priced service tier and end ever-expanding content budgets.

And at Warner Brothers Discovery, that means budget cuts everywhere — jobs first, but also expensive bets like CNN+, the streaming service Discovery canceled just weeks after launch.

It also means Discovery is winding down other projects from Warner’s previous management. Remember during the pandemic, when Warner put all of his movies on HBOMax the day they debuted in theaters — then, after the pandemic, said some movies would still be streamed right away, but others 45 days later? That’s over: Zaslav has said that if Warner makes movies, they should hit theaters — and Elviswhich would already be streamed under the previous 45-day plan, is still not on HBOMax.

Just as big a deal, at least in the eyes of former Warner execs: Under Zaslav, the company is preparing to sell HBOMax through Amazon again — undoing a deal the previous regime made to stop working with Amazon, which viewed it as a competitor that would ultimately undermine the company’s ability to sell directly to consumers.

The vitriol on this stuff between the new and old Warners management is entertaining for professional media viewers like me. But it matters more than industry gossip, because it represents two very different ideas about running a media company: Discovery CEO David Zaslav and his team did their best to replace their predecessors, led by former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, to be depicted as a starry sky. eyed technologists who caught the streaming bug and couldn’t think of anything else. And former Warner folks I’ve talked to think the Discovery guys (yes, mostly guys) only know how to merge, cut and hope someone else buys them sooner rather than later, not how to run a company for the long haul. can grow over time.

The truth is probably a bit of both. “We must be a little crazy,” admits a former WarnerMedia executive. “But we knew we wouldn’t do it forever. I think it’s right to pull back a little bit now.”

Or, as HBO programmer Casey Bloys diplomatically told me this week, “We are in a time when… [you have] the cable bundle, which is still a good business but is declining, and the streaming business, which is on the rise but people haven’t made much money from it. So you try to find a balance.”

And despite what you may have read or heard, HBO’s new owners aren’t radically shrinking HBO, says Bloys, the director who brought you all the HBO shows you’ve loved over the years — and who didn’t coincidentally recently renewed his contract there. “Our budget will continue to grow,” he said.

But Bloys – and everyone else who manages companies at Warner – will be asked to make fewer things and hope the things he makes really break through – hence the increased stakes of House of the Dragon. HBO’s first attempt at building on its Game of Thrones success would be a major problem under any circumstances. But now? It becomes a very big deal even if Bloys tries to manage expectations.

And yes, Discovery plans to merge its streaming service with HBO Max sometime next year. Which means at some point you have the option to subscribe to something that includes both House of the Dragon and dr. Pimple Popper, a Discovery reality show, that’s exactly what you think it’s about. You can turn your nose up at that pairing — or you can recognize that it’s a lot like TV back in the day, when subscribing to HBO also required buying a package of cable channels that wasn’t like HBO at all. Streaming isn’t going anywhere, but the cable TV model will be around for a while too.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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