Meditation apps have been a nice tech-centric respite for many, as the world continues to fall apart at the seams. HBO Max is hoping to build on that success with the launch of a new show based on the wildly popular Calm app. It is, thankfully, neither drama nor workplace comedy (HBO’s already done the startup thing), but rather a different format more inline with what you’ll get on the app.
Formatted as a season of 10 half-hour episodes, the show is loosely built around Calm’s sleep Stories series, with visuals from the producers of National Geographic’s One Strange Rock documentary series. That serves as the backdrop to “scientifically-engineered narratives” read by a pretty solid cast of Hollywood A-Listers, including Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Lucy Liu, Cillian Murphy and Keanu Reeves.
“Calm started life as a meditation app but the brand has evolved far beyond that,” Calm co-founder and co-CEO Michael Acton Smith said in a release. “We are delighted to bring the magic behind our audio Sleep Stories to the screen for the first time. These experiences are visual Valium and will help people relax and unwind during these stressful times.”
The concept isn’t dissimilar from Netflix’s fireplace videos or Adult Swim’s Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep, in that they extend the standard streaming service play of repurposing television series and films for the format. The on-demand nature of services like HBO Max make it possible to offer up more specialty content to, say, fall asleep to. Quibi, too, has its own meditation program, The Daily Chill. I, for one, have been falling asleep to Netflix much more often than I’d care to admit, these days.
But even without a global pandemic, a Netflix release was probably the right call. As we discuss latest episode of the Original Content podcast, this doesn’t feel like a movie that would have done well in theaters.
It is, to be clear, a funny and watchable, thanks in large part to the charming performances of Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as a couple who have hit a rough patch in their relationship — right as they’re also embroiled in a murder mystery. (There seems to be a whole subgenre of movies about couples who are inadvertantly caught up in crime stuff.)
The plot, on the other hand, is pretty thin, and it becomes even more perfunctory as the movie tries to wrap everything up at the end. That’s particularly disappointing since “The Lovebirds” reunites Nanjiani with his “Big Sick” director Michael Showalter — do not expect it to be as good as “The Big Sick,” or even close.
You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)
If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down: 0:00 Intro 0:25 HBO Max discussion 10:51 “The Lovebirds” review 23:41 “The Lovebirds” spoiler discussion
AT&T’s revenue took a hit in the fourth quarter as the company gears up for the launch of WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, HBO Max, due to arrive this May. The WarnerMedia division, which includes HBO as well as Turner and Warner Bros., saw revenue decline 3.3% to $8.92 billion — a drop that was in part attributed to WarnerMedia’s decision to not license shows and movies to other services in advance of HBO Max’s debut. The HBO Max investment, which includes these “foregone WarnerMedia content licensing revenues,” totaled $1.2 billion.
WarnerMedia also saw a 9.5% decline in fourth-quarter operating income to $2.4 billion, related to the HBO Max investment.
Among the shows which WarnerMedia decided to keep in-house ahead of HBO Max were Friends and Big Bang Theory, which in the past have been sold externally.
These impacts, along with the loss of subscribers to AT&T’s pay-TV business and other streaming services, also helped pull AT&T’s overall revenue down in Q4. The company reported total fourth-quarter revenue of $46.82 billion, down 2.4%, and profit of $2.39 billion (or 33 cents per share), down from $4.86 billion (or 66 cents per share) in the same period a year ago.
The company saw significant losses in streaming and its pay-TV business. It lost 945,000 pay-TV subscribers across DirecTV and U-Verse, as well as 219,000 subscribers for its over-the-top streaming service, AT&T TV Now. AT&T’s streaming service has lost subscribers throughout the year, noted The Hollywood Reporter, with a loss of 83,000 subscribers in Q1, 168,000 in Q2, and 195,000 in Q3. By the end of the year, AT&T TV Now ended up with 926,000 subscribers. That’s less than half the estimated subscriber numbers for Hulu’s live TV streaming service (not its VOD product).
On the pay-TV side, the company ended the year with 19.5 million customers, again following a stream of quarterly losses that peaked in Q3, when the businesses lost a combined 1.2 million subscribers.
On the earnings call, AT&T acknowledged that HBO Max would be “critical” to the company’s success going forward. WarnerMedia CEO and AT&T COO John Stankey said the service would be the “highest-quality premium SVOD [service] in the market with a great experience, better curation, and higher percentage of culturally relevant offerings than competing products.”
Stankey noted the company would have some “pretty aggressive promotions” for HBO Max at launch, including some wireless customers who will get it for free on some unlimited plans. It’s doing deals with potential distribution partners, including both digital platforms and pay-TV companies. And HBO’s over 10 million customers on AT&T’s existing distribution platforms will be offered access to HBO Max immediately at launch, to give it a fast start.
In the meantime, however, the HBO Max investment will continue to impact near-term revenues, AT&T warned.
“In the first part of the year, we expect pressure from heavy HBO Max investment, which you saw begin in the fourth quarter,” said AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens. But the company remains hopeful that HBO Max will do well.
“In the second half of the year, you will see our momentum build…HBO Max will have launched leading to strong subscriber growth. The run rate benefits of our cost reduction plans will be clearly visible. And 5G combined with HBO Max will drive more upgrades and stronger wireless revenue growth later in the year,” Stephens added.
Of course, HBO Max’s success is not guaranteed. AT&T may be bundling the service and offering it to existing HBO customers, but it still needs to grow its subscriber base with new sign-ups. And this year, there’s a lot of new competition in streaming, thanks to the recent launches of Disney+ and Apple TV+ as well as the soon-to-arrive new services including NBCU’s Peacock and Quibi.