HBO Max Relaunch: The Open Questions Ahead of Warner Bros. Discovery’s Next Pivot
What’s one way to drum up anticipation for a streaming service merger? Keep the new name secret.
As Warner Bros. Discovery prepares to unveil its refreshed streaming service on April 12, outside partners are still awaiting official word on what exactly the merged HBO Max–Discovery streamer will be named as executives continue to refer to the service by its code name, “Beam,” according to people familiar with the matter. (That code name has been referenced for several months, although it’s unclear if there are several shorthand references to the services, either for in-house notes or with outside partners.)
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The event, taking place at 10 a.m. PT on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank and streaming online, is set to showcase what the merged company’s marquee streaming service will look like as it loses the HBO Max name and gains programming from Discovery+.
Even as Beam is used internally, WBD executives are widely expected to announce that the updated streaming service will be called “Max,” which gives a nod to the original HBO Max name but loses the HBO branding. A quick search of Max.com also appears to suggest WBD’s takeover, as the domain — up until mid-February — was previously registered to the vitamin and supplement brand Max International. The URL is now registered to Markmonitor, a domain management and security firm that works with large corporations, including Warner Bros. Discovery. And, on CNN, an airing of four-part docuseries Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults was touted in a promo as a “Max Original.”
Content-wise, Max will differ from its predecessor in that it won’t be enticing viewers to subscribe by offering same-day films on HBO Max, as was the case with Dune, Wonder Woman 1984 and The Matrix Resurrections during what was called “Project Popcorn” in 2021. The move away from the streaming-first film mentality, championed by former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, comes as Warner Bros. Discovery continues to cut costs under its new leadership; during the fourth quarter of 2022, WBD reported $217 million in streaming losses, down from the more than $600 million recorded during the fiscal third quarter.
“There was a lot of content that just wasn’t being viewed,” WBD CEO David Zaslav said during the company’s Feb. 23 earnings call. “That’s what led us to the conclusion that direct-to-streaming movies were providing really no value to us.”
Original TV programming will continue, with projects in the works including a Harry Potter live-action series and a Sherlock Holmes TV franchise with Robert Downey Jr. attached as an executive producer, as well as the highly anticipated next seasons of House of the Dragon and The White Lotus.
But for those only interested in watching Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network or shows from the 90 Day Fiancé universe, fret not: Discovery+ will remain as a standalone service, even as its programs are added to the Max service, thanks to the lower-cost service’s low churn and profitability. If anything, Zaslav said during the earnings call that the addition of Discovery+ content onto Max will help convert some of those existing Discovery+ subscribers into Max subscribers. “Our strategy is no sub left behind,” he said. “We have profitable subscribers that are very happy with the product offering of Discovery+, [so] why would we shut that off?”
Ahead of April 12, lingering questions include how WBD will price out its subscription tiers, which begin at $9.99 for the ad-supported tier and $15.99 for ad-free for the current iteration of HBO Max. While the $15.99 monthly price point is on par with Netflix, HBO Max’s ad-supported tier is currently, at $9.99 a month, the highest of all the ad-supported subscriptions offered among Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+ and Peacock.
WBD most recently reported having 96.1 million streaming subscribers, with a relaunch being a key next step toward growth. “The relaunch or the launch of a combined product is absolutely critical because for the first time, we’re going to be able to put all the content together,” stated CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels at a Morgan Stanley investor event in March. “We believe that that’s going to have positive impacts on engagement, on churn, on subscriber acquisition.” The exec also stated earlier in the year on the earnings call that the relaunch of the combined service would be bolstered by an “increase in marketing spend support and premier content launches.”
Following next week’s preview of the updated streaming service, the company will hold its annual stockholder meeting in May.
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