HBO/HBO Max Laying Off 70 Staffers as It Shuts Down Streamer’s Reality Unit and Restructures Other Departments

After weeks of speculation, Warner Bros. Discovery is ready to reveal some of the changes that will take place at HBO Max, in advance of next year’s anticipated combination of the HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming services. And as expected, HBO Max will downsize its reality programming department.

As part of the changes, around 14% of the staff under the oversight of HBO/HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys will be reduced. That translates to around 70 employees (from across HBO and HBO Max) who will be laid off in this restructure.

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As part of the changes, Sarah Aubrey, the current head of original content at HBO Max, will now focus her oversight on the Max Originals drama slate. In addition, she will now also work in international programming strategy alongside the Warner Bros. Discovery International team, led by Gerhard Zeiler. Joey Chavez, exec VP Programming, will continue to report to Aubrey as lead for Max Originals drama.

On the HBO Max comedy side, the department will now report to Amy Gravitt, head of comedy and exec VP, programming for HBO, which will now align HBO and Max Original comedy under one team. Suzanna Makkos, who headed up HBO Max comedy, will now report into Gravitt.

As has been intensely speculated, the Max Originals non-fiction (aka its reality team) & live-action family originals departments will be limited in the new arrangement. Also impacted in the restructure are HBO Max’s international, acquisitions and casting teams. The rest of Bloys’ HBO programming direct reports remain unchanged.

Among the executives impacted are Jennifer O’Connell, HBO Max exec VP of non-fiction and live-action family originals; HBO Max content acquisitions exec VP Michael Quigley; HBO Max/T-Nets casting exec VP Linda Lowy; and HBO Max international originals senior VP Jennifer Kim.

In the case of reality, with a combined product soon to include thousands of hours of reality television from the Discovery side, the company didn’t believe it made sense to have a group at HBO Max continuing to develop and produce reality when that genre will be well-covered. Existing shows like “FBoy Island” will continue to run, and there will still be staffers in place to keep the lights on. It’s new development that will now be put on hold as Discovery’s unscripted output fills that segment for the combined streamer.

As for moving away from the kids content, it’s part of a recognition that building that business would have to be at a much larger scale, and the appetite for that programming on HBO Max doesn’t justify such an investment at the moment. Library content (such as Looney Tunes and Cartoon Network fare) will continue to fill that segment for the streamer.

Other departments impacted will include HBO Max’s casting group. HBO doesn’t have in-house casting and prefers for the executives to have a direct relationship with the casting director; that philosophy will now extend to HBO Max. Also pulling back is acquisitions, the team that does third party library and HBO pay one deals. With HBO’s last external pay one deal coming with “Avatar” in 2023, and most congloms moving all of their output in-house for the most part, the need for a large acquisitions group was no longer necessary, insiders said. There will be some library and pay two and pay three deals, but most major acquisitions will go through Warner.

And in downsizing HBO Max’s international team, insiders noted that HBO’s domestic drama and comedy teams would work with international producers and networks to develop co-productions like “I May Destroy You”; Aubrey will now be charged with doing the same for Max.

Then in comedy, the decision was made to combine the HBO and HBO Max teams (while keeping drama separate) because the feeling, according to those familiar with the structure, was that the comedy sensibility was much closer in line with each other.

As announced by Warner Bros. Discovery, the combined HBO Max/Discovery+ streamer will launch in the U.S. next summer. Conversations on what the service might be called are continuing, with options including whether to call it “HBO Max” or even just “Max,” with the debate centering on how much brand recognition “HBO” has internationally.

“At the end of the day, putting all the content together was the only way we saw to make this a viable business,” JB Perrette, CEO and president of global streaming and games for Warner Bros. Discovery, told analysts last week during the company’s earnings call. Bringing HBO Max and Discovery+ together is aimed at cutting churn so “there’s something for everyone in the household,” he said.

In the second quarter, WBD’s HBO Max, HBO and Discovery+ subscribers combined were 92.1 million, up 1.7 million from 90.4 million the prior quarter. That’s up 22% 75.8 million on a pro-forma basis versus a year earlier.

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