New WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar Talks HBO Max Expansion, Importance Of Tech, Future Of Linear TV & Theatrical Windows

Incoming WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said Wednesday that expanding HBO Max internationally and getting the technology right are two takeaways from his time growing Hulu and subsequent launch of a smaller VOD service called Vessel.

WarnerMedia parent AT&T revealed earlier today that Kilar will take the top job starting May 1 — in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. In an interview with Deadline, Kilar called the situation “unprecedented” and “sobering” but is confident entertainment will snap back as it has after previous crises. Given the collapsing advertising market, however, he’s glad the ad-supported version of HBO Max wasn’t slated to launch until 2021. Getting that out and right is another priority, and he can draw on Hulu, where he launched subscription-based and free/ad-supported tiers.

Settling on the founding CEO of Hulu, which Kilar led from 2007-2013, to run WarnerMedia’s large portfolio of legacy businesses from Warner Bros to HBO to Turner indicates just how serious parent company AT&T is about streaming as HBO Max preps its launch for later in May, shortly after the new chief executive starts. Kilar said he’ll mostly be taking a back seat at the preparation and launch, praising Bob Greenblatt (CEO of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct To Consumer) and the HBO Max team for “the good work they’ve done” and “the incredible decisions they’ve made.”

“I am very much a believer in the product and the service,” he said. “It will be a great day. What I’ll be doing is I will be taking orders for pizzas for the team, drinks for them. Making sure to cool things down if they are too warm in the war room. In that mode, to give leaders [of the project] what they need to do what they do.”

Then, he said, the sky’s the limit. “We are still in the early innings of customers worldwide starting to watch content on demand. There are 200 million paying customers that pay for video services in a 7-to-8 billion population world,” he said. “Under the hood from a tech standpoint, it’s very important to get that [tech] right, invest in it. Those are the two very important things. The tech is hard to do but once you get it right, the cost of distribution in a tech environment like digital, is that variable costs are so small it allows you to go global.”

Kilar launched Vessel after leaving Hulu and then sold it to Verizon, which kept the technology but shuttered the service.

On theatrical windows, he said, as others have, that a handful of movies that jumped abruptly from theaters to digital platforms was a function of chains closing and studios needing to keep the films in front of an audiences. “It doesn’t seem like an experiment, more a pragmatic realization that given the situation it was the right thing to do,” he said. But, “I feel strongly that the next 10 years will look very different than the previous 10 years. I do think that every aspect of the WarnerMedia business [and others] will look different.”

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