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'Wire' creator on HBO: 'They get behind the shows that they do'

Max Zahn

The streaming television war has many fronts, one of which pits legacy entertainment companies against their newer, online-native foes. Oldie but goodies NBC (CMCSA), Disney (DIS), and Time Warner (T) are set to enter an already heated competition between Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, and Amazon Prime (AMZN).

In a newly released interview, longtime HBO writer and producer David Simon — best known for shows like “The Wire” and “Treme” — says he has benefited from aggressive publicity provided by the premium channel, which might be lacking for creators who work with streaming giant Netflix.

“HBO, the one thing I've always been indulged by is they launch your show, the billboards go up, the promos start happening, the ads start running,” he says. “They get behind the shows that they do.”

“It's like, if you're on the air, if they're putting you on the air, that means something to them, and they had a publicity dynamic that was really aggressive,” Simon adds.

He contrasted that with the advertising approach from Netflix.

“Netflix will drop a show,” he says. “It will be like, I didn't see anything.”

HBO, which already streams its content on an online service for subscribers, is set to launch an expanded platform called HBO MAX in spring 2020. The service will feature HBO shows and movies, programming from HBO’s parent company Time Warner, and newly acquired third-party content, like “Friends.” Former NBC executive Bob Greenblatt, the head of AT&T’s direct-to-consumer business with oversight of HBO MAX, made headlines in March when he said Netflix “doesn’t have a brand,” adding “that’s a great business model when you’re trying to reach as many people on the planet as you can.”

Netflix stock jumped over 10% earlier this month, when the company beat third-quarter earnings expectations.

Simon is best known for creating the HBO show “The Wire,” which ran for five seasons in the mid-2000s. His other shows include “Treme,” “Show Me a Hero,” and most recently “The Deuce,” starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Simon won an Emmy in 2000 and has been nominated for four since. He previously worked as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun and is the author of “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets,” which chronicles his year with detectives from the homicide unit of Baltimore’s police department.

Simon made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

Television writer and producer David Simon appears on Influencers with Andy Serwer.

‘I’m astounded by how much they’re spending on content’

Having made his most notable and popular shows for cable television, Simon said he doesn’t understand how the streaming business model works at companies like Netflix that spend big for a large number of shows.

“They're flooding the market with content,” he says of Netflix. “I don't understand the model. But that's not a rap on them.”

“It seems like it's an incredible amount of production in terms of money,” he adds. “I'm astounded by how much they're spending on content.”

He said the streaming business model was more difficult to ascertain than the cable TV business.

“I don't know the revenue stream and how you get people to watch your content overall and where the money comes from eludes me,” he adds. “I understood cable bundling. When I get the HBO, that seemed to be the lion's share of what they're doing. Now everyone's got their own platform, and how you pull people to that platform is either library or buzz or having a hit.”

Asked whether the so-called golden age of television has resulted in better shows, Simon says, “There's more good, and there's more mediocre.”

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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