When Bill Simmons went to HBO in July 2015 and signed a reported three-year deal worth $7 to $9 million annually, there were high expectations of him starring in his own TV show, developing other TV shows, succeeding with written, audio and video content at The Ringer (where HBO is an investor), and working on documentaries. So far, though, a lot of that hasn’t panned out as many hoped for, with Simmons’ Any Given Wednesday being cancelled after just five months and 17 of the planned 37 initial episodes.
While Simmons is involved with HBO’s upcoming Andre The Giant documentary, the news that The Ringer’s Game of Thrones aftershow After The Thrones will be moving from HBO’s digital platforms to Twitter means he’s no longer affiliated with a regular HBO show. And according to Deadline’s Denise Petski and Nellie Andreeva, that move came from HBO cancelling the show after one season, then The Ringer landing it at Twitter.
HBO has canceled After The Thrones, the Game Of Thrones aftershow from Bill Simmons, which ran on its digital platforms. Following the network’s decision, Simmons’ The Ringer has moved to launch a similar, new aftershow titled Talk The Thrones, which will stream live on Twitter and Periscope following each episode beginning next month.
The Ringer announced on Twitter Talk Of Thrones‘ upcoming July debut, with Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan returning as hosts. The two also hosted the weekly recap talk show that aired on HBO Go, HBO Now and HBO On Demand.
This move may make some sense for the aftershow, which will be much easier for many to access on Twitter than on HBO’s digital platforms, and it may make some financial sense as well. Twitter’s been focusing on getting into all sorts of video content, from live sports to studio shows, and they may have offered The Ringer a decent deal here given that this aftershow already had somewhat of a following. And that could ultimately benefit HBO as well, both as an investor in The Ringer and as the broadcaster of Game of Thrones (the theory on the latter part is that a show devoted to talking about it may help boost Game of Thrones even further).
However, if HBO did move to cancel this, that certainly shows they weren’t all that high on it, and even if they didn’t, they definitely didn’t prioritize it all that highly if they let it go off-platform to Twitter. (And it will be interesting to see if they do any on-air or social media promotion for it now, the way they did back when it was an HBO property, as with posters like the one below.)
The larger context of the HBO-Simmons deal and how little it’s produced so far is worth considering, too. Simmons has been affiliated with them for almost two full years, and in that time, only Any Given Wednesday (cancelled before the end of its first season) and After The Thrones (cancelled after its first season) have made it to HBO’s airwaves, with After The Thrones only airing on those HBO digital platforms to boot.
There was some talk about Simmons doing other on-air projects himself, or The Ringer producing other shows along the lines of After The Thrones, but none of that has happened so far. Yes, the Andre the Giant documentary is promising, especially as a HBO/WWE co-production directed by 30 for 30 veteran Jason Hehir, but two-thirds of the way through a $20 million contract, that’s not a great return on investment for HBO.
That’s leaving out the questions of The Ringer’s own success. Simmons said in February that the site was profitable (despite many questioning that), and it may do even better following their recent move to Vox for both publishing and ad sales. However, the reported traffic numbers haven’t been great, and while they’ve certainly found some things that have hit (especially with Simmons’ own podcast), they have a lot of staff for a site that’s not pulling in a ton of regular clicks. So, while investing in it may not prove disastrous for HBO, it certainly hasn’t been a runaway success to this point.
The other important thing to note here is that the man who hired Simmons, long-time HBO programming president Michael Lombardo, left that position last May for a production deal with the network. So in some ways, Simmons is the big-name free agent signed by the former general manager who isn’t necessarily in the new administration’s plans. That isn’t his fault, and it’s actually a somewhat charitable explanation for why he hasn’t landed more projects with HBO so far (maybe he would have if Lombardo had stayed on), but it also doesn’t bode well for his future at the network. (But hey, at least Simmons gets to go to tech conferences, trash ESPN and offer wildly-implausible predictions about the future of sports rights.)
Back in November 2016, we wondered if Simmons’ HBO deal was approaching Rick Reilly’s ESPN deal; a lot of money for a supposed multi-platform star, but without a lot of tangible results and with plenty of backlash. Even then, things looked better for Simmons than they did for Reilly; he had a much more loyal fanbase, a much wider skill set (including success as a podcast host, a documentary producer, and a website editor-in-chief), and it was easy to see why HBO thought he was worth the money. There were plenty of companies looking to land Simmons once he left ESPN, and HBO wasn’t alone in offering him a lucrative deal. But the results really haven’t been impressive so far, and unless Simmons has a lot of hits coming up in the third year of his contract, it’s hard to see this overall deal looking good. The cancellation and move of After The Thrones is just the latest blow for it.