“I’m honoured and humbled by this award, because I know that it is predicated on a body of work and MIPCOM is a prestigious organisation that I respect very much,” Robert Greenblatt told the MIPCOM Preview ahead of his visit to Cannes. “I like to think I have a terrific personality, but I think I’m being recognised for 30 years of programming — all of which is the result of the collective hard work of thousands of colleagues and artists. It’s been a privilege to work with many of the best people in the entertainment business to bring new voices and new stories to a worldwide audience.”
His vast brief currently includes the launch of a global streaming platform, heading up HBO and running cable operations TNT and TBS, and much more. So what is his priority at this particular moment in time?
“Being an executive means handling multiple jobs at once and that is precisely what I love about it. The priority at the moment is the creation of our new direct-to-consumer streaming service, HBO Max. But since HBO and the Turner networks figure prominently into that strategy, it all overlaps in very invigorating ways. You can only oversee several companies at once, though, if you have the best possible people running them with teams working for them of passionate people all rowing in the same direction. I’m so fortunate to have Casey Bloys and Glenn Whitehead at HBO, Kevin Reilly at both HBO Max and the Turner networks, as well as Sarah Aubrey overseeing new original content for HBO Max and Tony Goncalves overseeing the product and management of HBO Max. He added: “It’s their leadership and the skills of countless people working for them that make it all possible.”
And while the evolution of the industry is racing ahead, Greenblatt is mindful of the foundations on which that industry was built. “I’m most excited now about being associated with these legacy brands — HBO, TBS, TNT, truTV — and challenged to keep them strong and vibrant in an environment that is more competitive than ever before,” he said. “Add to that the creation of a whole new business — HBO Max — inside a storied company like WarnerMedia that is now part of AT&T, one of the largest and most vibrant companies in America, and how could you not be excited?”
Quality content is at the forefront of this disrupted industry, and each of the platforms for which he is responsible require their own stand-out shows. And for Greenblatt, the platform defines the content.
“Each of our platforms has their own identity, so that dictates content choices to some extent. And I rely on the talented people running those different platforms to develop and produce the right projects for their respective areas,” he said. “The right HBO show is probably not going to be the perfect fit for TBS and visa-versa, so brand differentiation is important. I’ve spent my career — from the fledgling Fox network to Showtime and NBC, both of which needed to be reinvented — in search of stand-out content. You set your strategy, then reach out to the creative community to deliver the shows that will work for you and I’ve been very lucky on that front.”
Greenblatt started out as a producer and his name is inextricably linked to some big hits — Six Feet Under is just one example. So does he miss the hands-on experience and the tangible success that sometimes comes with it?
“I love being a producer and have had some of the best experiences in my career doing just that — Six Feet Under is one of the highlights of my life. I also love being an executive and managing multiple enterprises while being involved in creative and business decisions at the corporate level. At NBC I found some time to get very involved in a few projects, such as the live musicals. But in my current job at the moment I can’t focus as much on the content day-to-day. But I will always be a producer at heart and in a way I’m producing a brand new, direct-to-consumer experience that will bring together some of the most amazing content out there. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
HBO was a pioneering concept and remains a strong brand today, in spite of the dominance of the SVOD giants. So does Greenblatt plan to hold on to this legacy in this new era and into the future?
“Absolutely…100%. That’s why our new offering will be called HBO Max. HBO is one of the strongest global content brands, and is a pioneer of compelling, culture-defining programming. We’d be foolish to not root our new bundled offering with HBO as its foundation, and do everything to keep HBO as robust and thriving as we can.”
And then it is his and his team’s job to fill in around that with new original shows, acquired programming and library content from across the WarnerMedia empire. “Everything we do at HBO Max is predicated on the guiding principles that make HBO so compelling… hand-picked content of absolute stellar quality, with the best talent both in-front of and behind the camera. It’s pretty good to come to the table with HBO already in hand.”
Meanwhile disruption of the industry continues. How does he build this into the working day?
“Disruption isn’t just part of the working day — it is the working day. With the pace of change and ideation happening all around us, disruption and change are our new world order. Those who thrive in it will win and those who are scared of it and hesitate will lose. You just have to get comfortable living with it and adapting to it on some level every day.”
And as MIPCOM gets closer, what does Greenblatt believe he has to offer delegates in Cannes — and what can they offer him?
“MIPCOM has always been a gathering of the best and brightest content creators from across the globe, so my hope is that this continues and grows as we find new voices and create new talent. What I can offer delegates is my word that everyone at WarnerMedia is open to fresh ideas and compelling content and that is what I hope they’ll bring to us… before everyone else!”
And away from the boardroom, the disruption, the multiple responsibilities, what relaxes Robert Greenblatt?
“When not working, I am fanatical about the theatre. I go to everything I can and have also gotten involved in co-producing and investing in Broadway,” he said. “There’s nothing better for me — a pianist from way back — than a live theatre experience. And for a moment of leisure at Cannes, there’s nothing like watching the sun go down over the Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc.”
The MIPCOM 2019 Personality Of The Year keynote is on Tuesday 15 October, 17.00-17.45, at the Grand Auditorium. More info here…
This is an advance extract from the MIPCOM Preview magazine; full version online soon!