HBO Max’s death may be exaggerated — Discovery Plus merger coming summer 2023
If you love HBO Max like we do, you’ve probably been quite stressed. This week has seen a nightmare situation emerge for the HBO Max and Discovery Plus merger. But in the Warner Bros. Discovery Q2 Earnings Call today (Thursday, Aug. 4), we got a reason for measured optimism.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated per the Earnings Call.
Yes, in case you haven’t heard, the Discovery acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T, which led to the mouthful of a new name Warner Bros. Discovery, meant we’re going to be getting one service that combines the two. Or so we thought.
HBO Max got prominent placement in the Warner Bros. Discovery Q2 earnings call
After WBD CEO and president David Zaslav spoke to “combining the rich legacies” of Warner Bros. and Discovery into a single company, he reiterated the intent to “bring HBO Max and Discovery Plus” into a single offering. But the bigger moments came from JB Perrette, CEO and President of Global Streaming and Games.
While Zaslav Perrette both explained that we’ll need to wait for the Investors Day event planned for the end of the year, Perrette and his slides pushed HBO Max far harder than you might expect given the concerns about HBO Max being shrunk down to a simple HBO.
A slide for a Global Product showed large HBO Max and Discovery Plus logos, with bullets underneath declaring they will live under a “single global brand.” Interestingly enough, the service will have both “On demand & live” capabilities, as well as “Ad-free, Ad-lite and ad-only options.” There will be multiple tiers, which apparently will add sports.
Later on, one exec said they would be “doubling down” on HBO, another reason to think HBO Max has a strong future.
Then, another slide showed WBD’s schedule for both services, explaining that the US will get the service first, in summer 2023. It will debut in Latin America that fall, in Europe in early 2024 and in the Asia-Pacific markets in the middle of 2024.
All of the prominent HBO Max branding placement in this presentation suggests that the HBO Max brand and service will survive into this new service — even if it’s under the Discovery Plus branding.
Explaining the HBO Max concerns
So, why were we worried about HBO Max (which we still believe is the best streaming service)? In the midst of plenty of chaos on Tuesday (August 2), with HBO Max’s Batgirl movie being canceled after Warner put $90 million into it and the news that six HBO Max original films have disappeared from the service, other shoes started to drop.
Tony Maglio at IndieWire (opens in new tab) then reported there were more cuts to come, and it’s all because of the want to cut costs as they merge HBO Max and Discovery Plus. The question, of course is how are they going to merge these two services?
Then on Wednesday afternoon, The Wrap (opens in new tab) dropped a shocking new report stating “HBO Max development is expected to be especially hard hit with layoffs with two sources placing the amount of dev staff cuts at 70%.” An insider told The Wrap that HBO’s “employees are ‘all freaking out’ and that ‘all I know is they’re folding HBO Max into HBO, and there will be redundancies.'”
Some of that could still happen, but we’ve got less confidence in that report than ever.
Prior to this, all we had heard was a rumor from Beyond The Trailer YouTuber Grace Randolph. Randolph is credited as insider by some (opens in new tab)while James Gunn (opens in new tab) doesn’t seem to trust her, to put it politely. And her rumor now seems more true than ever.
The nightmare scenario for HBO Max fans
Ahead of Warner Bros. Discovery’s Q2 earnings on Thursday (August 4), Randolph tweeted (opens in new tab) a list of ideas that were “RUMOR re the #WBD presentation.” None of these ideas were presented.
Randolph claimed HBO Max would become a part of Discovery Plus, “probably as a #HBO tab” and that the new service would be “getting rid of #HBOMax scripted, overall streaming focusing on unscripted.”
This would basically force loyal HBO Max subscribers to buy into a new (likely more expensive) streaming service to keep getting access to the shows and movies they like, while possibly getting less of that content they prefer.
This also doesn’t speak to where the licensed HBO Max content — seasons of Friends, the Studio Ghibli movies and much more — would wind up. Inside that new “HBO” tab? Considering that HBO Max’s branding is strong at WBD, it feels like that would be the moniker on such a tab.
HBO Max becomes a section in a new app?
What would happen next? The Wrap quotes a Hollywood agent with knowledge of the plans as saying “HBO is very safe. If this was ‘Game of Thrones,’ Casey Bloys won.”
Yes, HBO Max just re-invested in the man behind its content: Casey Bloys, HBO and HBO Max’s chief content officer. A Variety (opens in new tab) report from July 2022 states that Bloys signed a new five-year contract with Warner Bros. Discovery. But just think like a cost-cutting executive and look at his split titles. Why have him run both HBO and HBO Max’s content, when he could just run one?
So it seems like Bloys is coming back to run a single team with a likely smaller budget. WBD has been swinging the cancelation ax on a lot of scripted programming, including TNT’s Snowpiercer, TBS’ The Last OG and HBO Max’s Made For Love.
Some HBO Max shows could stick around under the HBO brand, as Bloys has publicly said The Flight Attendant season 3 is definitely possible. We’re hoping Peacemaker, Harley Quinn, Our Flag Means Death and Hacks are among the shows that survive.
After the presentation we’re more likely to believe that the HBO Max brand is still valuable.
Outlook: What happens next
The big question that Warner Bros. Discovery execs are likely toying with is “which streaming service is more important?” Now that Warner Bros. Discovery has made its Q2 presentation, we get the impression that it values both streaming service highly.
Comparing HBO Max and Discovery Plus is admittedly like comparing apples and pineapples. The former is predominantly made up of scripted programming, and the latter is mostly unscripted content.
At the end of the day, this is Discovery’s company now. And it’s hard to envision them wanting to make their service a tab inside someone else’s app. That said, we’d much rather see a Discovery Plus hub in HBO Max than a HBO tab in the Discovery Plus app. HBO Max seems like a brand that could fit Discovery inside of it, right?
As we knew, a single, new streaming service will be coming to contain both Discovery Plus and HBO Max. The question about which side “wins” will be argued, but for now, it feels like HBO Max is a brand with a future. But this is all optics. What matters more is how much this new service costs (a price hike seems inevitable).
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