HBO will always be cooler than Netflix or Amazon, HBO explains

Go for the jugular.
Go for the jugular.
Image: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
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In a prestige TV reenactment of Mean Girls, HBO executives bragged about why all the cool kids want to sit at their table and not at Netflix’s or Amazon’s.

During a panel at the INTV conference in Israel today (March 13), HBO programming boss Casey Bloys took aim at his upstart streaming rivals, arguing they can’t offer the kind of selective, personal experience to producers that HBO is known for.

“They’re in the volume business, we’re in the curation business,” he said, according to Variety.

It’s true that with plans for 700 original series and films in 2018, Netflix can’t possibly provide the same level of intimacy that HBO does for its far more limited slate of projects. (HBO currently only has about 15 original series on the air.) Bloys said that HBO’s brand of close curation—for both subscribers and content creators—is becoming increasingly valuable as more and more series struggle to stand out in a saturated TV marketplace.

“That curation is more valuable now than it was five years ago, as we doubled the amount of scripted series, knowing you’re going to a place where you’re going to have a proper launch and attention paid to,” Bloys added.

Bloys’ comments echo those of FX CEO John Landgraf, who recently criticized the “glut of oversupply” from streamers like Netflix as a plague upon the TV business. “I’m not interested in making the world’s largest all-you-can-eat buffet with something for everyone,” he said at the Television Critics Association press tour last year. Like Bloys, Landgraf boasted that cable networks such as FX and HBO are committed to quality control and showing off an “editorial voice” that you won’t find at the gluttonous streamers.

For example, HBO’s Game of Thrones became what it is, Bloys said, because its creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, were focused only on developing that one series instead of several. That appears to be the opposite approach to Netflix’s strategy of striking massive production deals with Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, whose empires include a slew of original shows. “The reason they’re getting paid so much is they’re so prolific,” Bloys said. “That’s a very valuable talent.”

There’s no doubt that HBO is more selective than Netflix (it also has a significantly smaller content budget to work with), but Bloys’ digs at Netflix are somewhat ironic considering his finely curated network just announced it’s developing five separate Game of Thrones spinoffs. Five. It’s unlikely that more than one or two of them actually make it to your TV screen, but it shows HBO is not too tasteful to quintuple down on a franchise if it’s lucrative enough.

While Netflix was the main topic, HBO also singled out Amazon’s streaming video unit. Francesca Orsi, head of drama series at HBO, claimed Amazon wouldn’t pay for the cast of one of its shows to attend the premiere, Deadline reported. She called it “somewhat of a disgrace,” and remarked that some producers have come to HBO and said they specifically didn’t want to work for Amazon because of the perceived lack of benefits. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bloys had one final word of advice for Netflix, Amazon, and any other platform that prioritizes binge-watching over HBO’s traditional model of airing one episode a week: You’re missing out. “There’s a whole industry you’re crazy not to take advantage of…to create cultural conversation and buzz,” he said.

Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos has argued for years that viewers prefer to have all episodes of a show available to them to watch at their own pace, outside the limitations of linear TV. And considering the company’s users watch around 1 billion hours of Netflix per week, he probably doesn’t care a whole lot about what HBO has to say.