WarnerMedia thinks it can take on Netflix by doing less, but better

It’s increasingly about star power.
It’s increasingly about star power.
Image: HBO
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Will people really pay for another streaming service? They might if it’s actually good, argued WarnerMedia entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, onstage with HBO’s Big Little Lies star Laura Dern and Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones at the Cannes Advertising Festival on Tuesday.

The conversation addressed the question of how media companies can maintain quality in the age of infinite content—specifically how WarnerMedia plans to help its crown jewel, HBO, keep its edge under new corporate owners AT&T.

“It is an arms race as every platform comes online,” said Greenblatt, adding that mega-producers like JJ Abrams, with whom WarnerMedia is reportedly on the verge of closing an exclusive $500 million deal, are key weapons in the battle for consumers. “We know that some big deals have been made over the past couple of years by both Amazon and Netflix—just extraordinary deals—for people who are really worth it.”

And then he threw some shade at his competitors.

“Just because you increase the volume, doesn’t mean you’ve increased the number of really talented people in the world who can actually produce these shows,” Greenblatt said.

At WarnerMedia and HBO, he argued, creators can get the attention that a company like Netflix might not be able to give them. “Our pitch is that we hopefully created a company where you come in the door, and you are treated in a really respectful way. We are going to hand-curate the show with you. You get a special relationship with our company.”

Greenblatt admitted that the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming service, which debuts in early 2020, won’t have nearly as much content as Netflix does—but that consumers won’t care if that content is better:

“What we’re trying to do is curate the best of what we have, so that we’re not just putting 50,000 hours out there. Good luck to finding what you want out of [that].” Apple recently made a similar argument, hoping that the curated quality of its upcoming streaming offering stands out against Netflix’s “something for everyone” approach.

Greenblatt name-checked classic Warner Brothers films like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, as well the many brands under the WB banner: HBO, TBS, CNN, DC Comics, Adult Swim, and even Looney Tunes, which particularly excited Dern.

“I hadn’t heard Looney Tunes until now!” she said. “This is the greatest news ever.”

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Image: HBO