HBO Max is in an identity crisis
When it comes to content, HBO Max is in a very solid position right now.
It now hosts one of the most popular shows on television, The Last of Us, which premiered as the network’s second most watched series in over a decade. That’s not all, with the imminent return of the critically acclaimed “Legacy” in its fourth season.
Both series live up to what HBO is known for: high-quality, huge-budget drama, as we’ve seen on Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and The Wire.
Behind the screen, however, the platform is currently in crisis, fueled by a long-awaited merger with Discovery+ and a convoluted rebranding process that could end its fortunes.
Warner Bros. Discovery
The Wall Street Journal reports that, contrary to earlier expectations, while most Discovery+ content will be available on HBO Max after the merger is completed, Discovery+’s standalone streaming service will remain.
This means that any current subscribers to the service (which focuses on documentaries, reality shows and sports) will not be forced to subscribe to the new combined streaming service, which is expected to be more expensive.
From a business standpoint, the reason is clear. Discovery+ has approximately 20 million subscribers, with plans starting at $4.99 per month for ad-supported viewing and $6.99 for ad-free viewing.
HBO Max, meanwhile, costs $9.99 a month for ad-supported streaming and $15.99 a month for ad-free—significantly more than Discovery+.
It is likely that many Discovery+ members will drop due to this price increase, especially since the final bill could be even higher – the new plus size combo streaming service is largely expected to raise its prices even more due to the influx of new content that HBO Max users didn’t even sign up.
The company also clearly sees that the two services have different audiences, as evidenced by this info slide with a quirky insight into its target demographics for HBO Max and Discovery+:
Warner Bros. Discovery
There is a lot to unpack here. How does a person “lean” or “lean back” on a series? Why is Warner separating its two streaming services into blue and pink? And most importantly, what the hell is Jeanredome?
HBO Max has three times as many subscribers as Discovery+ and reached over 70 million subscribers in 2022, a number that could very well have increased since The Last of Us began releasing new episodes.
Although Warner Bros. Discovery can’t afford to drop Discovery+ subscribers, it will certainly lose more if it doesn’t offer a lower plan to current HBO Max members.
To complicate matters further, HBO Max is rumored to be rebranding. Rumor has it that the new name is just “Max”, taking HBO completely out of the equation. That’s right, the days of “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” may be over.
Casey Bloys, Chairman and CEO of HBO Max, spoke to Parrot Analytics and stated that the HBO name could be dropped from the new streaming service due to not being family-friendly enough, which appears to be a priority for Warner:
That’s all well and good… until you remember that just last year, Warner made devastating cuts across the board in animation projects, with children’s shows being the biggest casualty.
This could potentially be a huge mistake. On the one hand, the HBO brand has a strong identity for the audience. You know what quality to expect from it, and the most popular recent shows have stayed within traditional HBO parameters.
Seeking Alpha claims that one of the most important factors in the decision to drop the HBO name is to appeal to audiences outside of the US, which actually makes sense. The HBO brand definitely doesn’t have the same recognition in several countries, including the UK.
But the lack of an attached label and the mere co-optation of “Max” destroys any sense of identity. Most other major streaming services have brands such as Disney+, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video at the forefront. Ironically, “Max” can be too minimalistic.
If the streaming service really wants to move away from its HBO roots, then it could easily appeal to a wider audience by replacing “HBO Max” with “Warner Max”. Warner Bros. has a long and rich history in animation, blockbusters, and famous films, so it would come naturally – and ticks the box for “family”, which seems to worry the studio.
Warner Bros. Discovery
But of course, I keep coming back to the fact that HBO Max is doing well right now, and it seems that any major changes to the brand’s identity – and significant price increases – can only hurt for now.
As subscribers leave Netflix in droves after its password crackdown plans surfaced, HBO Max will almost certainly gobble up new members. Why risk losing them again?
What am I watching this week
I slowly made my way through Taskmaster Channel 4, of which there are a whopping 14 seasons available.
If you’ve never watched a game show before, Taskmaster brings in five comedians/television hosts and pits them against each other in a series of weird and quirky challenges designed and tested by Alex Horn. Greg Davis then evaluates their performances and awards points.
I’d like to give a special mention to episode 7, starring James Acaster and Rod Gilbert – the members get on incredibly well with each other, hilarious and hopeless at the same time.
If you’re not in the UK, you can still catch Taskmaster using our guide to watching Channel 4 overseas.