Don’t fret, there’ll nonetheless be dragons.
Picture-Illustration: Vulture. Picture: HBO Max
As a lot as this has been the yr from hell for Netflix, 2022 up till now has been nothing in need of heavenly for rival HBO Max. Subscriber numbers are manner up, its content material is connecting with audiences (and awards voters), and even its initially buggy person interface has been vastly improved. However whereas success normally brings stability in enterprise, the second half of the yr will doubtless be something however steady for HBO Max. With new Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav already transferring quick to place his stamp on his newly supersized firm, business insiders are buzzing about huge adjustments being contemplated on the streamer, starting from the elimination of total program departments to even ditting the HBO Max branding altogether.
When you’ve been paying even slightly little bit of consideration the previous couple of months to the reporting surrounding the Zaslav-led Discovery takeover of the previous WarnerMedia, nothing concerning the notion of serious disruption at any division throughout the firm will come as a shock. Plenty of very gifted execs have already been pushed out the door, bold movie and TV initiatives have been scrapped, and a complete streaming platform (RIP, CNN+) was shut down days into existence. The 11 months it took for federal regulators to approve the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery gave Zaslav and prime lieutenant JB Perrette (now head of world streaming on the firm) practically a yr to ponder how they wished to do issues. The truth that issues are (largely) going swimmingly at HBO Max is not going to cease them from executing his imaginative and prescient for how one can construct on no matter success the streamer has needed to date, in addition to repair any errors he thinks had been made by former homeowners AT&T.
Picture: Taylor Hill/WireImage
To this point, Zaslav and his group have made just one definitive pronouncement about the way forward for the service: HBO Max and Discovery+ might be folded right into a single unified app sooner or later (comparatively) quickly, as soon as the not-inconsiderable technical challenges will be found out (there’s quite a lot of content material on Discovery) and the corporate decides how way more, if something, to cost for the supersized service. Past that, every part else is concept — although as ordinary in Hollywood, that is not conserving people from chattering about what could also be in retailer on a number of fronts:
➽ Will Warner Bros. maintain making films only for Max? Final yr, former WarnerMedia boss Jason Kilar introduced an bold plan to have Warner Bros. Photos produce at the least ten huge function movies straight for Max. One in all them — a remake of Father of the Bride — debuted final week. However I’ve talked to business insiders who say it is now an open query whether or not Zaslav desires to maintain soaking tens of millions into costly films that by no means see the within of a cinema. We obtained the primary trace of this philosophy final month when information broke that the exec had determined to scrap an already-announced Max function movie primarily based on DC’s Marvel Twins characters. THR reported the transfer was made as a result of Zaslav would not need any DC movies to debut with out making a cease in theaters, and that the opposite films on the Made for Max slate ought to now are available in with a price range beneath $35 million.
Nonetheless, one business insider tells me there is a broader debate occurring inside the corporate about whether or not even lower-budget movies like Father of the Bride would possibly profit from having a short theatrical run, notably since all Warner films now come to Max roughly 45 days after opening in moviehouses. That might successfully finish the thought of Warner Bros. Photos making films straight for Max, although it is potential the studio might nonetheless make the identical variety of movies in whole: They’d simply play in theaters earlier than leaping to streaming. Whereas this is able to fly towards present typical knowledge within the movie enterprise that there is not any longer room for “smaller” movies in cinemas, “Zaslav could be very a lot a believer in theatrical home windows,” one business supply advised me. A rep for the studio declined remark.
➽ Does Discovery take over HBO Max’s unscripted unit? Discovery’s programming experience is unscripted tv, and with so many Discovery-branded actuality exhibits headed to Max as a part of the plan to unite the apps, there was speak about huge cuts to Max’s unscripted group for months. Insider’s Elaine Low final month reported on business hypothesis that prime unscripted execs on the Warners facet may very well be headed for the exits quickly, whereas final week Puck Information famous that Max unscripted staffers — the oldsters behind titles similar to Legendary and FBoy Island — had been satisfied layoffs had been going to be introduced final Friday although there have been no such bulletins deliberate. However as Puck additionally famous, these staffers are doubtless proper to be fearful. Given Discovery’s experience on the unscripted entrance, business insiders I spoke with this week inform me it is potential Group Zaslav would possibly determine to only get rid of the HBO Max reality-show division altogether, whereas persevering with to fund the separate (and extremely embellished) documentaries unit. An HBO Max spokeswoman declined remark.
➽ A reputation change? Whereas that is in all probability decrease down on the precedence listing for Warner Bros. Discovery execs, there’s as soon as once more discuss that the HBO Max identify will not be lengthy for this world. Hypothesis a few identify change has been occurring nearly from the minute Max was introduced. Many of us contained in the pre-merger firm fearful not solely about diluting the HBO model however extra importantly had been involved that HBO had little or no resonance for audiences outdoors of the US (In a lot of Europe, as an illustration, HBO applications have lengthy aired beneath the Sky TV banner.) CNBC’s Alex Sherman has been throughout this inner debate, documenting dissatisfaction with the branding again in December 2020 after which once more final October, when he reported that those self same anti-Max dissidents had been on the point of foyer Zaslav to ditch the identify for one thing else as soon as he took over.
This time, as Sherman famous, the justification for a switcheroo is that with all the brand new Discovery content material coming to the platform, “HBO Max” would not supply the most effective description of what the service provided customers. A brand new ID would thus present a gap to achieve the tens of millions of customers (each within the US and elsewhere) for whom 90 Day Fiancé is a much bigger draw than Succession. HBO-produced exhibits would nonetheless be branded as such on the app, in fact, however the advertising for the platform would then deal with HBO exhibits as merely one planet in a much bigger content material universe. One non-Warner Bros. Discovery producer (and former exec) I spoke with thinks a rebranding would let Zaslav repair an enormous AT&T mistake, although he truly argues for a barely much less dramatic change to the identify. “It ought to at all times have been HBO+,” he mentioned, predicting the present “Max” moniker “is not going to final.”
As attention-grabbing because the pro-name change argument could also be, Zaslav could finally determine it is not well worth the funding in time and assets to make what’s on the core a beauty change. And as for the opposite potential adjustments at Max mentioned on this week’s publication, it’s price repeating: That is hypothesis. In accordance with a number of sources acquainted with the considering of Warner Bros. Uncover execs, little or no closing has been determined past combining HBO Max and Discovery+. So whereas there are robust hints that some layoffs are all however sure to hit Max’s reality-TV group, they might find yourself being much less dramatic than what some within the reality-TV neighborhood worry.
Likewise, when it comes to Max authentic films, THR‘s reporting signifies these titles with decrease budgets and already within the pipeline will in all probability be advantageous. Zaslav could determine to maintain having his film studio produce a slate of cost-conscious movies unique to Max. Or he might merely determine that, transferring ahead, those self same titles now deemed “Max Originals” will get at the least some type of theatrical launch, even when box-office expectations are modest. If that’s the case, that may be win-win for the movie studio (it is nonetheless making films) and the streaming facet (they’re nonetheless getting films which might be model new to the overwhelming majority of subscribers).
What additionally appears unlikely to vary a lot is the HBO Max content material group run by community vet Casey Bloys, which as famous earlier has been on hearth of late. Headed into subsequent month’s Emmy nominations, the combo of HBO and HBO Max is the favourite to attain probably the most variety of noms, having simply cleaned up within the just-announced TCA Awards nominations. This yr has additionally seen the launch of a number of hits, together with Successful Time, The Gilded Age, Julia, Our Flag Means Demiseand Peacekeeper. And whereas it is too quickly to say how critics and audiences will react, the August arrival of Home of the Dragon guarantees to revive at the least slightly little bit of that Recreation of Thrones magic.
Even earlier than the streaming period, HBO has gone by means of intervals the place issues have appeared a bit bumpy and observers have questioned its future (bear in mind all these tales declaring the community toast after The Sopranos and Intercourse and the Metropolis signed off?) It’s potential that after a yr of continuous momentum, HBO Max may very well be in for slightly little bit of turbulence as new homeowners step into the cockpit and regulate the service’s flight plan. However so long as the streamer’s core content material pipeline stays robust, and subscriber development stays regular, it appears doubtless all of the adjustments (and rumors about adjustments) swirling round HBO Max will find yourself being remembered as little greater than background noise.