HBO Max gets Chip and Joanna Gaines but may lose what makes it special
It shouldn’t surprise you that HBO Max is about to find itself in a world of pain. It is bigger and more successful than its current sister streamer, Discovery Plus. But it’s also a part of Warner Bros. Discovery, a company now run by David Zaslav, and Zaslav is a guy who loves him some reality TV and it’s okay strip channels, cancel cool shows, and scrap movies if that means the accounting books will look a little nicer. Now, just days after his company cancelled batgirl for a tax write-offthere are rumors that HBO Max will also be stripped.
According to the most recent estimates, HBO Max had more than 76.8 million worldwide subscribers despite a terribly bad app. Discovery Plus, the service launched by Zaslav before the merger, had about 22 million. It is definitely the third largest streaming service by subscribers, after Netflix and Disney Plus. HBO Max, again despite just being a terrible app in need of a total overhaul, felt like proof that you can’t afford huge Marvel and star wars-quality franchises or Netflix’s luxury of being an early mover in the streaming space to build a fairly robust streaming business. Jason Kilar, the then CEO of WarnerMedia, instead took many things the company already had (the great HBO and its many successful properties; a huge catalog of WB movies and TV shows; and a big luxury bag of successful intellectual property such as DC Comics and Harry Potter) and formed HBO Max.
To better differentiate HBO Max from Disney Plus and Netflix, Kilar also threatened to upset Hollywood by offering some particularly important incentives to customers sitting at home due to the pandemic. HBO Max had day and date releases for theatrical movies.
Zaslav was probably not a fan of Kilar’s strategy. It doesn’t matter that his company merged with Warner Bros. and came in with a much less popular streaming service full of things to watch while doing laundry or spending the weekend at your parents’ house. Never mind that streamers’ broader strategy is to produce “appointment TV” to compete with YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. Zaslav is a reality TV guy. He built Discovery into a reality TV empire and has long preferred the fast, cheap and easy reality show to that critically acclaimed but expensive scripted TV.
Earlier this year he alluded to the demise of the young HBO Max. “Our goal is to compete with the leading streaming services, not win the spending war,” he said during a phone call in February. During the same appeal, CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said the new company would strive for “substantive efficiency”.
the cover and people on Twitter claim that Warner Bros. Discovery could announce a major restructuring today during the company’s Q2 earnings call. The HBO Max side of the company will apparently bear the brunt, with 70 percent of their development staff being laid off – according to an anonymous source the cover spoke to.
The idea is that HBO will remain a top product for Warner Bros. Discovery, but HBO Max, the streaming service that carries the library of HBO and Warner Bros. host and a surprisingly solid stable of original programming, will disappear and merge into a new app that will host all current content for both HBO Max and Discovery Plus (with the obvious exception of batgirl).
We knew the two apps would be combined since March, when Wiedenfels confirmed it at Deutsche Bank’s 30th annual Media, Internet & Telecom conference. At the timehe called for “very, very detailed and disciplined planning” to transfer customers and merge them into two services.
If the rumors about today are true, then plans have changed or someone hasn’t received the memo. Instead of a thoughtful rollout, the past few days have been chaos for the company. the cancellation of batgirl sent shockwaves through the entertainment world. The next day, HBO Max Quietly Pulled Some HBO Max Exclusive Movies of the service and canceled others in production, further fueling fears. (Luckily, the drawn movies are still available. Instead of being stuck in the vault with batgirl, they are now available for sale or rental on request only.)
This morning, HBO Max announced that Discovery darlings Chip and Joanna Gaines would be bringing select content from their Magnolia Network to the streaming service. “We can’t wait to bring these stories we love — including our next adventure, Fixer Upper: The Castle — to HBO Max in September,” the couple said in an HBO Max press release. Things are suddenly moving very fast at Warner Bros. Discovery, and the ship hangs on the wall.
What that means for many current HBO Max originals remains to be seen. Shows like hacking, Harley Quinnand Our flag means death have earned major accolades and vocal fandoms. Other shows have died on the vine – Ridley Scott’s sci-fi show Raised by wolves was just canceled after two mediocre seasons. Later today, Zaslav was able to repeat what his company was doing at The CW and start a second “red wedding” $55 billion in debt incurred by the company in the merger.
That debt is a sword hanging over the company’s head. And HBO Max, the expensive streamer trying to compete with Disney and Netflix, can be used as a shield to keep the still lucrative linear cable business at the heart of Warner Bros. protect discovery.