After an 11-year run on TBS, late-night TV star Conan O’Brien is moving on. WarnerMedia recently confirmed that Conan has signed a deal with HBO Max for a weekly variety show, continuing the company’s moves to build value in its primary streaming service. No premiere date has been set yet, but Conan’s TBS show will officially come to an end by June 2021. It’s effectively a lateral move, as WarnerMedia owns TBS as well, suggesting that the company may feel that Conan’s talents could be put to better use on HBO instead of TBS.
TBS isn’t backing away from comedy shows, as it will still air Conan’s travel specials, Conan Without Borders, and the network has renewed Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal for a fifth season. That said, the cable network is vying for the same entertainment dollars being spent on a variety of streaming services, including Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, and Netflix.
For HBO, signing a late-night veteran like Conan gives the platform another comedic star alongside John Oliver and Bill Maher, the former of which hit a record high in viewership earlier this year with his Last Week Tonight weekly show. WarnerMedia continues to invest in original content for HBO and HBO Max that has the potential to lure new subscribers, including Raised By Wolves, Lovecraft Country, Perry Mason, and, of course, the entire 2021 theatrical slate from Warner Bros.
When Conan completes his TBS run, he will have been a late-night host for 28 years; HBO Max likely affords him an opportunity to try something creatively different (and on a different schedule) from his work on cable TV. It’s a move that should go over well given that 21% of Conan’s current audience already subscribes to HBO Max, according to Interpret’s New Media Measure®. Moreover, comedy is far and away the most popular genre currently enjoyed by HBO Max viewers.