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Most Innovative Brands in Events 2020: WarnerMedia

The entertainment conglomerate traded IRL red-carpet premieres for revolutionary virtual events.

HBO Max 'Love Life' Virtual Cocktail Class
After HBO Max's Love Life screening, attendees entered the virtual after-party, which had a series of interactive rooms; in one space, series producer Paul Feig mixed cocktails and interacted with the crowd.
Photo: Little Cinema

The Basics: The media and entertainment conglomerate encompasses a portfolio of iconic brands, including Turner Broadcasting, HBO, Cinemax, Warner Bros. (which includes DC Comics and New Line Cinema), and the HBO Max streaming service, which launched in May 2020. And while WarnerMedia’s individual brands, such as HBO, have always hosted over-the-top entertainment events, 2020 forced the corporation to rethink its entire event marketing strategy, which included forming a dedicated virtual event task force. The result: impressive premiere events that were specifically designed for a digital audience. At the start of the pandemic, the WarnerMedia team reached out to Jay Rinsky, founder of creative and digital studio Little Cinema, to build a private, secure platform to support HD streaming from the ground up, which was key to hosting a slew of virtual screenings and after-parties.

Steal-Worthy Ideas: WarnerMedia quickly pivoted to creating immersive virtual experiences inspired by the new content, usually with dedicated microsites where live events were presented, allowing attendees to navigate and explore while engaging with talent, performers, and fellow guests. “We wanted to find a way to bring our industry together during a time when we are all supposed to stay apart. We wanted to try to do this and still capture the excitement and buzz that we’d normally receive from talent walking the carpet at a typical premiere and celebrate our new series and talent,” Eileen Quast, vice president of events for WarnerMedia Entertainment, told BizBash back in May 2020. “We asked ourselves ‘How to achieve these goals using the internet?’”

For example, to promote HBO Max's new underground ballroom dance competition series, Legendary, guests entered a virtual space featuring breakout rooms dubbed “houses” in the spirit of dance culture. During a live voguing competition, at-home attendees could show off their moves, while fellow attendees voted on their skills.

HBO Max 'Love Life' Virtual Event Delivery KitLove Life attendees received a delivery that included a meal from restaurants in either New York or Los Angeles, a bottle of wine, and a make-your-own Manhattan cocktail kit—plus branded wine glasses, candles, a themed game, and even a hand-held microphone to use during the after-party's livestreamed karaoke.Photo: Yannick DelvaThe online layout for the virtual after-party for Love Life evoked an apartment building in New York City, where the Anna Kendrick-fronted romantic comedy series takes place. It included a bar setting where series producer Paul Feig mixed cocktails and interacted with the crowd. In another room, matchmaker Amy Van Doran gave love advice to real couples. Plus, guests received an at-home date-night mailer with a three-course meal from local businesses, a bottle of wine, and a DIY Manhattan cocktail kit, along with branded wine glasses, candles, an on-theme game, and even a hand-held microphone to use during livestreamed karaoke.

HBO Drive-In Event, 'Lovecraft Country'HBO created a drive-in event for the finale of original series Lovecraft Country. Held at the Paramount Drive-In near Los Angeles, the immersive gathering nodded to the show's 1950s time period and travel aspect. Highlights included era-specific billboards for fictional businesses featured in the show, plus masked actors and plenty of props. The event was the culmination of several local drive-in events around the country, which screened various episodes in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Newark, N.J.Photo: Courtesy of HBOIRL vs. Virtual: In addition to hosting an expansive on-brand drive-in event in L.A. for the finale of original series Lovecraft Country, HBO also premiered a companion virtual event series called Lovecraft Country: Sanctum. The futuristic VR events transported guests into a digital world with immersive theater elements, escape rooms, art installations, and puzzles inspired by the TV series. 

What’s Next: In early December, Warner Bros. announced it will release all its 2021 movies on the HBO Max streaming platform the same day they're released in theaters; usually movies run in theaters for 75 days before they can debut on streaming services. While it’s unclear what the groundbreaking move will mean for the industry, it might signal a future where movie-going experiences are treated more like events, with more significance and grandeur.

HBO Lovecraft Country: Sanctum Event SeriesIn early September 2020, HBO premiered Lovecraft Country: Sanctum, a series of futuristic, virtual-reality events that transported guests into a digital world inspired by the series.Photo: Courtesy of HBO

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