What HBO Max’s Merger Means For You

Here are the shows going and staying (for now), plus Marvel-ous plans for DC Comics

For the last two years, HBO Max has been home to thousands of hours of HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, all of Studio Ghibli’s filmography and a slate of new HBO Max Originals. It was even a cheaper alternative to the Criterion Channel, with its Turner Classic Movies section and selection of many of the films in the Criterion Collection. By 2022, once the streamer worked out a lot of its app problems, many film buffs considered HBO Max to be the best streaming service on the market.

So, naturally, AT&T found a way to mess it all up.

Batgirl’s out, but HBO Max’s merger with Discovery+ will include a renewed focus on the DC Comics universe, execs say.
Tony Soprano, Meet Chip and Joanna

AT&T acquired Time Warner in a 2018 merger with a focus on promoting synergy among its brands. The new company would use AT&T’s internet prowess to fuel HBO’s content. AT&T never could make it work. The telecommunications giant spun WarnerMedia off to Discovery in April of 2022, creating Warner Bros. Discovery.

Now, after the much-publicized canceling of a DC comic book movie, new WBD CEO David Zaslav announced Aug. 5 in a second-quarter earnings call that HBO Max will merge with Discovery+ sometime in summer 2023. There is no new name or price point for the service yet.

One of the slides from WBD CEO David Zaslav’s earnings call announcing big changes for the streaming service.

Soon, you’ll find The Sopranos on the same service you use to watch “Fixer Upper”‘s Chip and Jo — a combination of HBO’s “male-skewed, appointment viewing” strategy and Discovery+’s “female-skewed, comfort viewing” strategy.

Yes, this slide is real and yes, people are rightly making fun of it.
Batgirl and DC

Zaslav also said on the earnings call that Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt were canceled because the company “didn’t believe in [them]”:

“We’re not going to launch a movie until it’s ready. We’re not going to launch a movie to make a quarter and we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it.”

However, Zaslav said DC would be a big focus for the company going forward, revealing a “10-year” plan similar to the exacting formula employed by rivals Disney and Marvel: “You look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman — these are brands that are known everywhere in the world,” he said. “We have done a reset. We’ve restructured the business where we are going to focus, where there is going to be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC. We believe we can build a much more sustainable business.

“It’s very similar to the structure Alan Horn, [former Disney CEO] Bob Iger and Kevin Feige put together very effectively at Disney,” Zaslav said. “We think we can build a much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC. As part of that, we are going to focus on quality. We are not going to release any film before it’s ready. … DC is something we can make better.”

So far, the upcoming The Flash film is still happening, despite Ezra Miller’s best efforts to the contrary.

What’s staying and what’s leaving?

The future of HBO+Discovery (or whatever they’re going to call it) is unsure, but a few things are certain. First, there will be no day-and-date film releases of Warner Bros. films like we saw in 2021. No more watching Dune at home right after seeing it in the theater.

Second, a number of HBO Max Originals have already been cancelled or removed from the service in addition to Scoob! Holiday Haunt and Batgirl. These include:

At this point, all remaining HBO Max Originals are subject to possible cancellation or removal, but no more moves have been announced. This includes stuff like:

All prestige HBO content that first aired on HBO (Succession, Westworld, The Wire, etc.) should be safe. Theoretically.

Expect more reality TV to be added to the service in advance of next summer when the HGTV-ification of Home Box Office is complete.

Where do we go from here?

If anything, last week’s news just shows that media companies are taking a circuitous route to get back to the ad-supported cable networks of 30 years ago. Netflix is going to have ads soon. Disney+ is finally starting to debut its Marvel and Star Wars shows on different nights so the premieres of She-Hulk and Andor won’t conflict — a move that some Marvel fanboys online are hailing as revolution, even though this is a routine programming schedule for appointment viewing.

It’s Uber reinventing the bus all over again. Disney already offers a bundle for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Other streamers will probably follow suit, until more consolidation happens and one company just owns everything (probably Disney).

As is always the case with consolidation, less competition means less value and less quality for you, the viewer. As a cost-cutting business move, Zaslav’s cancellations make sense. Can’t have the next Game of Thrones if you don’t have money. But the implementation is terrible. Cancelling a slew of shows and movies to save money and then saying you want to try to catch up to 14 years of Marvel world-building? That’s something out of a Jack Donaghy subplot on 30 Rock.

Welcome to the streaming future. Everything is content. Everything is up for cancellation.

Just like regular TV.

 

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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