Cutting costs, merging, putting Batgirl on hold: is this the end of HBO Max? | Warner Bros.

TDrama is coming fast at AT&T-owned entertainment giant Warner Bros. Discovery – unfortunately for the company and its viewers, the action takes place in its boardrooms.

The company was created after AT&T spun off WarnerMedia and merged with Discovery in April last year, with media watchers waiting to see how the new media powerhouse would reshape its business. Now a plan, of sorts, is emerging.

First, the studio announced plans to permanently shelve a previously filmed Batgirl. film to the tune of an estimated $90 million loss, a puzzling move explained in an official statement as symptomatic of a larger shift in company doctrine away from streaming, albeit more obscure accounting imperatives taxation also played a role.

HBO Max subscribers then began combing through the library and noticed that a handful of original films produced for the platform had been quietly removed; the Seth Rogen American Pickle vehicle, meanwhile, is now only available as a $3.99 rental on iTunes.

Rumors of staff layoffs and series cancellations swirled until the bomb was finally dropped by Warner/Discovery CEO David Zaslav during a second quarter earnings report last Thursday: 2023, HBO Max and Discovery Plus would be combined into a single entity, ideally with a name that doesn’t sound like a brand of batteries.

The decision to tear down the HBO Max brand and start anew on the vacant lot it will leave behind comes as a shock to industry watchers, who saw Warner go full steam ahead into streaming during the early days of the pandemic. confined to the house.

The company caused a stir with “Project Popcorn,” an unorthodox business model under which they released their 2021 movie slate on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters. More than a dozen big-ticket titles — including The Suicide Squad, Cry Macho and In the Heights — have materialized in US living rooms at no extra cost, a clear swipe at a theatrical exhibition meant to funnel viewers down the path of streaming of the future.

The thought of 3D chess gave way to good old common sense as leaders noticed it was difficult to charge people for what they already had at home. Hope winners Dune, The Matrix: Resurrections and Space Jam 2 all underperformed at the box office, and it was time for a course correction.

During a report that at times played like a sweaty Succession press conference, Zaslav pushed the title of the theatrical release’s return in no uncertain terms. “We will fully embrace theater,” he said, presenting a development slate with less emphasis on straight-to-stream productions.

Anyone dedicated to the cause of cinema can see reason to rejoice in a renewed commitment to the theatrical experience forever in jeopardy, with the more optimistic among us eyeing a mini-boom for original concepts from distinctive artists. . But Warners is far from the first studio to adopt the bold strategy of releasing only good movies instead of bad ones, an overhaul that’s easier said than done.

The tone of the recent earnings call erred on the side of corporate inanity, particularly in how the C-suite understands the usefulness and future of HBO Max. A slideshow card summarily circulated as a meme on social media shattered the service’s alleged appeal, unlike Discovery Plus.

While HBO Max is “male bias”, “leaning forward” and “house of fandom”; Discovery Plus is “feminine bias”, “leaning back” and “house of genredoms”. The reasoning that “HBO equals Game of Thrones, which guys love” versus “Discovery Plus equals Property Brothers, beloved by women” betrays a major misunderstanding about the broader potential of these services, which could to be hubs for a wider cross section of material aimed at omnivorous tastes.

As much as the service has proven to be a graveyard for its streaming-exclusive films, deservedly (Roald Dahl’s bland adaptation of The Witches, pandemic rush work locked) and not (school shooting drama The Fallout and techno-thriller Kimi , both of which deserved more profiles), it found more success in the serial format.

The Flight Attendant and Hacks captured the attention of Emmy voters, Station Eleven and Tokyo Vice showed cult seedings, and Our Flag Means Death boasted some of the best reviews of all its season debut. Numbers aside, although HBO Max’s subscriber base eclipses that of Discovery Plus by a margin of tens of millions, it was a success on the sole basis of providing people with good entertainment. HBO Max’s insane merger with Discovery Plus — home of the 90 Day Fiancée universe, the Food Network and other reality TV stalwarts — risks losing the exploratory spirit that gave series well- loved as Search Party and The Other Two a domicile.

The real richness of the HBO Max project lay in its indefiniteness; without a daily schedule to fulfill or strict performance requirements dictated by ad sales, it could have been a bastion for experimentation. Watch Terence Nance’s curious and overflowing sketch program, Random Acts of Flyness on HBO proper, an encouraging example of the greatness fostered when budget and creative freedom are entrusted to idiosyncratic talent.

Rather than a claustrophobic enclosure for franchise footage intended to take place in an auditorium, the automatic platform could have been valuable breeding ground for newcomers ready for increased exposure. It still could, one assumes, based on the vague language Zaslav used about the cloudy future of streaming.

The pictographic representation of this bright new day, however, does not inspire much confidence. A perfectly circular blob labeled “Content” feeds a chevron-shaped block emblazoned with “Streaming,” flanked above and below by “Movies” and “TV.” As long as the stewards of the art continue to see it as a blind product to be moved around in revamped combinations, the renaissance they expect will not come any time soon.