Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes says that Bill Simmons’ short-lived HBO show did not flop and was not canceled because of poor ratings. Rather, HBO decided “Any Given Wednesday,” was not the best use of his talents and he is now working on something better.
Speaking with Business Insider’s Henry Blodget on Tuesday, Bewkes was asked why Simmons’ debut effort at HBO flopped. Bewkes disputed that assertion and explained that ratings for individual shows mean less for HBO than other networks because they are not relying on ad sales during specific time slots.
“It didn’t flop,” Bewkes said. “Remember, we don’t care what the ratings are … I will say to you, I did, that the ‘Westworld’ season was even bigger than ‘The Game of Thrones,’ but I also said, we don’t make money out of that. That doesn’t matter.”
Simmons’ show averaged approximately 200,000 viewers during its run, with its audience size almost completely dependent on the popularity of the movie that aired in the time slot before. While it is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, to put that into perspective, some of ESPN’s more popular daily talk shows have audience sizes anywhere from 300,000-400,000 (for “First Take” on ESPN2) to 500,000-800,000 (for “Pardon the Interruption,” “Around the Horn,” and “Highly Questionable” on ESPN).
Bewkes went on to explain that at HBO, ratings for individual shows are less important than having an eclectic mix of voices that will appeal to a broad audience. In fact, he says HBO green-lights some shows knowing that they will not do well with ratings. Rather, it is more important that the audience have more choices.
“There are different shows that very few people watch, that we green-light knowing very few people are going to watch,” Bewkes said. “We want distinctive voices on the network so that whatever your interest is, you’ve got a few things on there that appeal to you.”
So then why was Simmons’ show cancelled? It sounds like they could have easily decided to keep rolling with “Any Given Wednesday,” but instead just decided that they could come up with a better way to take advantage of Simmons’ talents.
“We could easily do a show with Bill, that we could tailor, he could do it, to make it kind of interesting every week and all of that,” Bewkes said. “As we talked to him about his vision, we’re thinking we can do some other things … he’s working on other things we think will be better and will be fairly noticeable, [better] than that show. We just thought that’s not the best place to put his attention.”
Bewkes would not say what those projects are. While most speculation is that the next project will be similar to the “30 for 30” documentaries Simmons worked on at ESPN, maybe his time in front of the camera at HBO is not done.