WarnerMedia’s Hannes Heyelmann talks unscripted at Edinburgh TV Fest ’21

Attendees at this week’s Edinburgh TV Festival were offered a look inside the current strategies and future plans of WarnerMedia, including discussion on unscripted content. The festival held a Q&A with ...
August 26, 2021

Attendees at this week’s Edinburgh TV Festival were offered a look inside the current strategies and future plans of WarnerMedia, including discussion on unscripted content.

The festival held a Q&A with WarnerMedia EVP of programming, EMEA, Hannes Heyelmann (pictured), on Wednesday (Aug. 25) as part of an International Insight session. Heyelmann leads the content and acquisitions strategies across nearly 100 channels for the company, and is responsible for programming strategy for both linear channels and HBO Max. All of this includes leading base strategic decisions on how many hours of content WarnerMedia is looking for, in which genres and what types of programming it wants to acquire.

With the expansion of HBO Max to more and more territories since it launched in 2020, Heyelmann said WarnerMedia is looking to tap into more unscripted content for the streaming service. While the streamer already includes a variety of true crime titles, Heyelmann said he could envision more dating series like FBoy Island and more lifestyle and cooking series like Selena + Chef.

“We are really going to tap into a much broader unscripted offering, because HBO Max will be so much more than the success of HBO we already have,” Heyelmann said.

With that in mind, Heyelmann said HBO Max, and WarnerMedia as a whole, is open to a variety of unscripted genres. He highlighted documentaries about sports, music or celebrities, as well unscripted formats like singing contests and dating series, as types of programming his company would be interested in.

But the goal is to be selective about this content, Heyelmann said, adding the company doesn’t want to pick up any series that could be considered “trashy” or “lowbrow.”

“It’s the look, it’s the content, but it’s also that you treat people with respect, and I think that is possible in a dating show,” Heyelmann said.

“Obviously there needs to be tensions, and you have the people you like and you don’t like, but still there’s a fine line where you treat people the way they should be treated.”

Moving on into discussions about WarnerMedia acquisitions, Heyelmann said that while the company often looks for titles it can license across its entire footprint of networks and territories, the team will sometimes pick up a series or film and license it for a specific local market, if they don’t see it having a more international appeal. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, Heyelmann said. A combination of strong local and international titles will help make HBO Max more successful, he added.

WarnerMedia will partner with local broadcasters and production companies on titles, on a case-by-case basis, Heyelmann said. Usually, WarnerMedia will get the first window to air the title, with the broadcaster getting the second. This can be a win-win, he said, as production costs are shared and the local broadcaster often has a bigger reach, where the title will still be new to many viewers.

But the main message WarnerMedia has in co-productions, Heyelmann said, is that they’re open to them, they’re flexible for the right project, and more are to come for the company.

HBO Max expanded outside of the U.S. earlier this summer by launching in 39 additional territories in Latin America and the Caribbean. Further expansion into Europe was originally planned for later this year, but may be delayed until 2022.

Heyelmann added that WarnerMedia is open to working with talent, both in on-screen and writing talent, but also in working with smaller production companies. While a great track record helps the company feel more secure and comfortable with a partnership, ultimately the team want to hear about new titles and ideas, and potential partners who can bring that in a convincing way, even if they’re less experienced, are just as welcomed.

Still, WarnerMedia is unlikely to acquire a hyper-local title and license it for all of the company’s markets, he said, because not every title can be a global hit.

“For us, it’s not about volume, it’s really customizing the service to the local (markets),” Heyelmann said.

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