Even HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo sometimes feels overwhelmed by the pace of change in his industry. “There’s a paradigm shift happening. The way people consume entertainment is changing.” He maintains his calm by believing “that the one truth [in all this change]…is quality content will succeed.” Lombardo admits, though, good content also needs “people to pay attention to it.” Still, you know change is afoot when a person in Lombardo’s position can say, as he did at TCA in Los Angeles July 30, “I’m not interested in a scheduled, linear channel.” Later he admitted, “I don’t know how people are going to be viewing [content in the future, but] I want to be there.”
In addition to various options for content delivery, storytelling form is changing. “I think writers and creators are thinking about things differently,” he said. “True Detective” illustrates one of the big changes. Its entire season was devoted to telling a single story. When the story ended, so did the characters. Detective garnered 12 million viewers. “For us, that’s an enormous number,” Lombardo said. Still “there was a moment where the idea of a short, truncated, eight-hour whatever you want to call it…a limited series, a miniseries…”[was a non-starter]. Now there are a number of people pitching [that format]…I think people are playing with forms…when people came in [to HBO with a pitch] I used to say, ‘Well, can it go on for five years?’ I don’t ask that question anymore. I really think that if something goes for a year and it’s great, you know what? That’s what consumers care about.
It’s more about “integrity and quality” in the programming, he said, rather than “satisfying some artificial construct about being something they can passively experience for five or six or eight years,” he said. “Nice when that happens, but if the story isn’t mean to be told in that kind of form, don’t push it. And so I’m open to things.”
The digital platform HBO NOW has changed Lombardo’s thinking. As long as a creator has good content, Lombardo is willing to listen. “I don’t have to program to an hour or half-hour. Someone comes in with a 15-minute idea, why not?”