The WBD Effect


Cynopsis Medias First Morning Read
Wednesday May 15, 2024

Converging Data, IP, and Cultural Moments: A Conversation with WBD’s Jon Steinlauf

By E.B. Moss

When Warner Media and Discovery joined forces, “WBD” became a multimedia behemoth made up of movie studio and television studios, iconic brands including CNN, TLC, HBO and HGTV, and streaming services for every audience, Max and discovery+. It became a content engine fueled by iconic franchises, live sports, blockbuster films, hard-hitting journalism, buzzworthy unscripted series, and everything in between.

Chief U.S. Advertising Sales Officer Jon Steinlauf explains how the sum of the WBD parts are adding up to more advertiser opportunities than ever before, the impact of “the WBD Effect,” and the efficiencies of a pioneering new first party data platform, “Olli.”

WBD has an incredible wealth of IP, from franchises like Game of Thrones, to The Situation Room, Batman to baseball. What is jumping off the screen for you – and advertisers – these days?
We’re creating a ton of high-quality original content, but we also get to tap into the amazing libraries from HBO, Discovery and more. We’re definitely benefiting from Warner Brothers having been on a bit of a run, starting with Barbie, into Wonka, into Dune, into Godzilla…. But by combining original releases with our library assets, we’re really providing a constant stream of culturally relevant, premium content across all platforms – linear, streaming, theatrical.

How are you leveraging all this for both the viewing experience and ad opportunities?
Look at theatrical successes at the box office: now they’re also having an impact when they come to Max. Because, for the first time we’re selling sponsorships of theatricals on Max. And the same concept applies with sports, with news, with linear entertainment, and movies. For our example, every NBA game that runs on TNT is running on Max, so the TNT NBA advertiser ads are simulcast, therefore getting the TNT advertiser in the NBA into Max houses. It adds reach, adds new viewers, different people, and it adds younger people.


Sports In the House

Let’s talk sports, and the concept of ‘TNT Sports’ as an umbrella brand. (And congratulations on record-breaking viewership of the NCAA tournament on WBD!)
First, we think of TNT Sports now as a combination of TNT, TBS, truTV, Max, and Bleacher Report; it’s a five-platform strategy. The properties include the NBA, NCAA, NHL, MLB, men’s and women’s U.S. Soccer national teams, golf…and NASCAR returns starting in 2025, which we’re very excited about. It’s really an unrivaled portfolio.

Right now, we’re in the midst of a great stretch – with multiple NBA and NHL playoff games airing across TNT Sports, sometimes simultaneously. And as truTV becomes more of a sports network, we’ll use our talent – like Ernie, Shaq and the Inside the NBA
crew – to do not just a simulcast but with some of the sports, like the NBA, an actual alternate telecast with different commentators approaching it differently for different audiences.


Super IP and The WBD Effect

What’s a similar example on the entertainment side?
One of the strategies you’ll hear discussed at this upfront is about WBD IP. It could be a Warner theatrical. And it could be CNN on the night of the Michigan primary; it could be HGTV launching the new Dream Home; it could be the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet, or Shark Week on Discovery Channel. It could be the opening night of the NBA the NHL winter classic on January 1st. Our tentpoles become cultural moments.

Advertisers are thinking about this as the way now to get connected to these high-profile cultural moments. We call it the WBD Effect.

Can you illustrate that with a sponsor example?
Mercedes sponsored the final season of Succession in 4th quarter of ’23, and we created custom messaging saying, “This episode of Succession is brought to you commercial free by Mercedes.” They were able to align their brand with one of TV’s biggest recent phenomena and benefit from viewer appreciation. More examples of high-profile IP are Last of Us, which will launch in 2025; and in June we’re launching the second season of House of the Dragon, which is the prequel to Game of Thrones.

These are very highly rated, highly anticipated projects to align with, because the business has changed: streaming advertising is starting to grow up and linear advertising is still very important. But it’s the IP that makes the difference. That’s where the advertisers tend to want to focus – on projects that are going to get a lot of press and a lot of promotion and a lot of attention.

How are you connecting the sponsorship dots across your platforms and verticals using that IP?
We’re pioneering immersive, multi-platform ad campaigns tied to our iconic franchises. For 2025’s Superman reboot [set to open in theaters July 11, 2025] it’s the beginning of a new era for DC….Some of the things that you’re going to be hearing about will be that networks will have themed episodes and series and specials to support the theatrical launch, all of which will be sponsorable. For example, CNN may have some of the history of Superman, and we’ll have a new animated series on Adult Swim.

We’re putting the full weight of WBD behind Superman to make it an unmissable cultural event for audiences and brands. And an advertiser can hit all these touchpoints. Of course, one of the big payoffs will be sponsoring the theatrical, licensing the brand consumer products, and merchandise. Then, when it comes to Max at some point the same advertisers can follow it along the chain as a sponsor.

So, the overall takeaway for advertisers should be that WBD content is not just individual shows, but about all of the content, the entire output: some of it is available on
Max, some of it is available on discovery+ and linear, but the advertiser is able to follow content across the platforms and get all of these different audiences.

And I make the point because it really typifies who we are as a company. And Kathleen Finch [Chairman & CEO, U.S. Networks] is this content leader who’s got all these production factories operating at high efficiency with great creative minds, and they’re pumping out WBD IP. And the product is then being distributed in places where people are choosing to view it.

This is the new WBD. It’s this idea of make great content in all genres, distribute where people are choosing to view it and then sell the advertising cross platform with targeted data. So, the Olli story overlaps really well with our content engine.


First Partying with Olli

Yes, the Olli news! How did that come about and how does it apply today?
Olli is a data platform that we’ve been building for many years and launching right now…. Think of it as a first party in-house data platform with an identity spine. And we have 100 million homes covered under it across 700 million devices. We have the ability to deduplicate and the ability to control the reach and frequency across the entire TV platform.

For linear, we have 71 million paid TV households covered. Olli quantifies what we’re accomplishing there, then maps that into our streaming platforms for a holistic, deduplicated view of audience delivery. We’re calling this unified offering “Converged Data-Driven Video” – it’s an end-to-end solution empowering advertisers to plan, optimize, measure and attribute real-world outcomes like sales lifts and brand awareness across our premium video portfolio.

An Infinity Loop to Success

WBD is going all-in on streaming but you’re maintaining linear dominance. How do you balance those efforts?
Our entertainment networks have incredibly strong linear audience positions that we’ll continue nurturing as assets. Those 71 million homes that have a subscription to a cable provider are some of the most attractive homes from a demographic and disposable income standpoint. There are many nights during the year where we go over a 40 or 50 share of cable, and occasionally a 60 share, because of the wide range we have in the genres that we program to and how many big events we can create of successful television series. For example, Big Bang Theory, which we air in prime time a couple of nights a week, has had higher shares on TBS than it’s had at any point in its history. Food Network is consistently one of the highest rated networks in cable, night to night to night. And one of the things that is not necessarily as high profile as maybe it should be is AEW – our wrestling franchise on TBS, which is #1 in cable on Wednesday nights on TBS.

HGTV is #1 with upscale, educated viewers. TLC has outperformed Bravo on W25-54 for five straight years. Adult Swim has been growing its audiences, which is hard to do, especially with the younger skewing in the cable pay TV universe. When you have this
audience share and quality of programming, it’s a pretty attractive landscape. So, we’re still competing aggressively.

A lot of the benefit of being the linear leader, though, is in utilizing our linear creative engines and resources to facilitate streaming growth. An IP might start on ID linear, then take on a whole new life and audience on Max or discovery+, like we saw with the true crime series Quiet on Set hitting 28 million viewers. In other words, as an advertiser, you get to reach your linear audience through pay TV. But you’ll also extend your reach as that same content deploys across our streaming platforms. It’s an infinity loop where both sides fuel each other’s success.

What should viewers and advertisers expect from WBD’s converged, culturally-immersive content and ad strategies?
This upfront season, you’ll hear us really leaning into the power of WBD’s IP and cultural moments. From tent-pole sports events like the NBA All-Star Game to reality hits like Shark Week – these are the moments that captivate audiences and create natural cohesion between content and advertising. We have so many more pioneering initiatives coming in 2024 and 2025 that I can’t elaborate on just yet. But I can say this – WBD is laser-focused on solidifying our position as the premier destination for world-class programming and industry-leading ad solutions.

Cynopsis Team

Robbie Caploe
VP/Group Publisher
[email protected]

Lynn Leahey
Editorial Director
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Kerry Smith
Division President
Access Intelligence

Albert Nassour
Executive Director of Sales
[email protected]

Stephanie Cronk
Senior Marketing Director
[email protected]


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Rob Hudgins

Cynopsis General Inquiries
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