It was the worst-kept secret in the industry — and now, it is official: Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) will abandon its cornerstone streaming brand “HBO Max” in favor of a relaunched product called “Max,” one that will see some consumers paying more money for the same set of features they already receive.
The announcement was made at a press event on Wednesday, during which executives for the media company affirmed the HBO brand was being relegated back to television where it belonged.
“This is our rendezvous with destiny,” David Zaslav, the CEO of WBD, said during the event. “It’s streaming’s version of must-see TV.”
- An ad-supported version for $10 a month (no change)
- An ad-free version with HD video for $16 a month (no change)
- An ad-free version with 4K video for $20 a month (new tier)
The pricing structure will essentially force some customers to pay more for features they already receive with HBO Max. Currently, streamers who pay $16 a month or $160 a year for the ad-free version of HBO Max get access to ultra-high definition (UHD/4K) video streams and the ability to download content for offline viewing. Starting next month, UHD/4K video streams will be limited only to the $20-a-month plan. Both ad-free plans will allow users to download video offline, but subscribers of the $16-a-month plan will be limited to 30 episodes or movies at once (the $20-a-month plan bumps the limit to 100). Dolby Atmos audio will only be available on the $20-a-month tier.
Executives apparently believe charging more for those features is warranted because Max will get a significantly higher amount of content compared to what’s available on HBO Max today. Specifically, the service will soon integrate unscripted programs from the Discovery side of its content library, to include reality-based programs like “Dr. Pimple Popper,” “Chopped” and “House Hunters.”
Most of Discovery’s content has lived exclusively in a separate streaming service called Discovery Plus, which is priced between $5 and $8 a month, depending on features. Discovery is expected to continue as a standalone service when Max becomes available in May.
The company is promoting Max as a destination for everyone by highlighting the wide variety of programs that will be available on the platform — from kid-friendly shows culled from the Cartoon Network and young adult fare in the form of animated sitcoms from Adult Swim, to classic sitcoms like “Friends” and blockbuster series “Game of Thrones,” “The Sopranos” and “The Last of Us” for more mature audiences.
“It’s the place every member of the household can go to,” Zaslav affirmed on Wednesday.
Less clear is whether Max will be immediately available on the same number of supported devices that currently enjoy access to HBO Max. This was a problem when HBO Max debuted three years ago: At launch, the service wasn’t available on Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, which controlled around 70 percent of the streaming TV platform market at the time. The lack of availability meant HBO Max’s growth was relatively slow in its early months before distribution agreements were reached with Roku and Amazon.
Things might be different now: When HBO Max launched, the brand was part of the WarnerMedia subsidiary of AT&T, and the telecom was focused on squeezing the most money out of its content portfolio as possible (to that end, AT&T was insistent on hammering out financial terms with Roku and Amazon that it deemed favorable to the company).
Last year, HBO was part of the broader marriage between WarnerMedia and Discovery after AT&T spun off the former into a separate company. Since then, WBD executives have been more focused on getting HBO in front of as many consumers as possible: The company ironed out a deal with Amazon to return HBO subscriptions to its third-party streaming marketplace and forged an agreement with Roku and Fox Corporation’s Tubi that saw older HBO content repurposed on free streaming TV platforms for the first time.
With distribution part of WBD’s broader content and streaming strategy, there’s little reason to think Max won’t debut across all supported streaming TV platforms next month, though it was more or less confirmed today that streamers who want better video quality, offline downloads and other perks once reserved at the $16-a-month price point will have to shell out more cash to get them.