HBO Max is doing well – so course changes are coming

Don’t worry, there will still be dragons.
Image caption: Eagle. Photo: HBO Max

As much as this has been the year since hell for Netflix, 2022 so far has been nothing short of fantastic for rival HBO Max. Subscriber numbers are on the rise, their content connects with audiences (and rewards voters), and even Initially buggy UI has been greatly improved. But while success usually brings stability to the business, the second half of the year is likely to be unstable for HBO Max. With David Zaslav, the new CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, already quick to make its mark on its newly bloated company, industry insiders are buzzing about big changes being contemplated for the streaming device, from canceling entire program sections to abandoning the HBO Max brand entirely.

If you’ve paid very little attention in the past few months to reports surrounding the Zaslav-led Discovery takeover of former WarnerMedia, anything about the idea of ​​major disruption in any division within the company would come as no surprise. Plenty of extremely talented executives have already been fired, ambitious film and television projects have been canceled, and an entire broadcast platform (RIP, CNN+) has shut down after days of existence. The 11 months it took for federal regulators to approve the WarnerMedia and Discovery merger, gave Zaslav and First Lieutenant GB Beret (Now the company’s head of global broadcasting) took nearly a year to think about how they wanted to do things. The fact that things (mostly) are going smoothly on HBO Max won’t stop them from implementing his vision of how to build on any streaming device success so far, as well as fix any mistakes believed to have been made by AT&T owners.

David Zaslav.
Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage

So far, Zaslav and his team have made only one final announcement about the service’s future: HBO Max and Discovery+ will be Folded into one unified application At some point (relatively) soon, once the not-so-huge technical challenges are discovered (there’s plenty of content on Discovery) and the company decides how much, if any, extra cost to charge for the massive service. Beyond that, everything else is speculation – although as usual in Hollywood, that doesn’t stop people from gossiping about what might be hiding on several fronts:

Will Warner Bros. continue? In producing films for Max only? Last year, former WarnerMedia president Jason Keeler announced an ambitious plan to make Warner Bros. Pictures produces at least ten major direct-to-action feature films for Max. One of them – a remake of father of the bride – Debuted last week. But I did speak to industry insiders who said it was now an open question whether Zaslav wants to continue immersing millions in expensive films never seen in cinemas. We got our first hint of this philosophy last month When the news broke That the exec has decided to cancel the already announced Max movie based on DC’s Wonder Twins characters. THR mentioned This step was taken because Zaslav didn’t want any DC movies to appear for the first time without stopping in theatersAnd the And that the other films on the Made for Max list should come with a budget of less than $35 million.

However, an industry insider tells me that there is a broader debate going on within the company about whether low-budget films like father of the bride You might benefit from having a short theatrical run, especially since all Warner films now max out about 45 days after opening in cinemas. This would effectively end the idea of ​​Warner Bros. Pictures making films directly for Max, although it is possible that the studio would continue to make the same total number of films: they were only playing in theaters before jumping into live broadcasts. While this would go against the conventional wisdom in the film industry that there is no longer room for “smaller” films in movie theaters, “Zaslav is a firm believer in theatrical windows,” an industry source told me. A representative from the studio declined to comment.

Did Discovery acquire the unregistered HBO Max console? The programming expertise Discovery is unscripted television programming, and with several Discovery-branded reality shows heading to Max as part of an app consolidation plan, there’s been talk of deep cuts to Max’s unrecorded cast for months. Elaine Lu from the inside Last month I reported on industry speculation that Warners’ unregistered top executives may be heading for an exit soon, while last week Puck News pointed That max unaccompanied staff – the people behind titles like legendary And the FBoy Island – They were convinced that the layoffs would be announced last Friday, although there were no such announcements planned. But as Bock also pointed out, those employees are likely right to worry. Given Discovery’s expertise on the unscripted front, industry insiders I spoke to this week told me it’s possible Team Zaslav will decide to ditch HBO Max’s reality-show division altogether, while continuing to fund the separate (and highly embellished) documentaries unit. A spokeswoman for HBO Max declined to comment.

changing the name? While that might be at the bottom of Warner Bros.’s priority list. Discovery execs, there’s talk once again that the HBO Max name might not be too long for this world. Speculation about the name change has been ongoing almost since the moment Max was announced. Many people within the pre-merger company were concerned not only about the weakening of the HBO brand but more importantly that they were concerned that HBO had too little resonance for audiences outside the US (in much of Europe, for example, HBO broadcasts Long under Sky’s TV banner.) CNBC’s Alex Sherman has swirled around this internal debate, once again documenting dissatisfaction with the brand. December 2020 Then back last October when stated That these anti-Max opponents were preparing to pressure Zaslav to give up the name for something else once he took over.

This time, Sherman pointed out, the justification for the switch is that with new Discovery content arriving on the platform, HBO Max doesn’t best describe what the service has to offer to consumers. Thus, the new identifier will provide an opportunity to reach millions of consumers (both in the United States and elsewhere) 90 days fiancé is a fee greater than Succession. Programs produced by HBO will still be branded on that app, of course, but marketing for the platform will then treat HBO shows as just one planet in a larger content world. A Discovery producer (and former CEO) I spoke with believes that rebranding will allow Zaslav to fix a major mistake at AT&T, though he actually argues for a less dramatic change to the name. “It always should have been HBO+,” he said, predicting that Max’s current moniker “won’t last.”

As interesting as the name change argument may be, Zaslav may eventually decide that it’s not worth investing the time and resources to make what is essentially a cosmetic change. And as for the other potential changes to Max discussed in this week’s newsletter, it’s worth repeating: these are speculations. According to multiple sources familiar with the thinking of Warner Bros. Discover execs, very little has been finalized other than the combination of HBO Max and Discovery+. So while there are strong hints that some layoffs will reach Max’s reality TV cast, they may end up being less dramatic than some in the reality TV community fear.

Likewise, in terms of Max’s original films, THRReports of titles with lower budgets that are already in the pipeline are likely to be good. Zaslav may decide to continue to have his film studio produce a range of cost-conscious films exclusively for Max. Or he could simply decide, going forward, that those same titles now considered “Max Originals” would at least get some form of theatrical release, even if box office expectations were modest. If so, it would be mutually beneficial for the movie studio (still making movies) and the streaming side (they’re still getting movies that will be brand new to the vast majority of subscribers).

What seems unlikely to change much is the HBO Max content team run by vet Casey Bloys, which has been on fire lately as we noted earlier. With Emmy nominations looming next month, HBO group and HBO Max are the favorites to score the most names, having just been nominated in the just-announced TCA Awards nominations. This year also saw the launch of several hits, including win timeAnd the gilded ageAnd the JuliaAnd the Our knowledge means deathAnd the preserve peace. And while it’s too early to tell the reaction of critics and fans, the arrival of August Dragon House It promises to revive at least a little of that Game of thrones Charm.

Even before the era of broadcasting, HBO had periods when things seemed a bit tricky and watchers wondered about its future (remember everything). those stories announcing network toast after, after soprano And the Sex and the City After a year of continued momentum, HBO Max could experience some turmoil as new owners enter the cockpit and adjust the service’s flight plan. But as long as the streaming device’s core content pipeline remains strong, and subscriber growth remains steady, it’s possible that all the changes (and rumors of changes) swirling around HBO Max will end up being considered little more than background noise.