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WBD to license some HBO shows to free streaming services

The logo of HBO Max appears on a television screen.
The logo of HBO Max appears on a television screen. (Graphic by The Desk)

A handful of shows that are being pulled from the HBO Max streaming service will see new life on free, ad-supported streaming products in the future, executives at Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) confirmed on Wednesday.

The shows that will be licensed to third-party streaming services are expected to include the sci-fi thriller series “Westworld,” two seasons of reality competition show “FBoy Island,” and the first season of “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”

“The company has recently decided to license certain HBO and HBO Max original programming to third party FAST services to be part of a packaged offering which will drive new, expanded audiences for these series,” a WBD spokesperson said in a statement. “As we prepare for this transition, these series will be coming off of the HBO Max service.”

Officials at WBD have not said publicly which streaming services have been approached about offering HBO content through their platforms, but a source familiar with the strategy said WBD is hoping to offer HBO shows and other content to the Roku Channel, Amazon’s Freevee, Comcast’s Xumo Play, Vizio’s WatchFree Plus, Samsung TV Plus and Dish Network’s Sling TV. Streaming services that are operated by competing media companies, including Paramount Global’s Pluto TV, Fox Corporation’s Tubi TV and Comcast’s Peacock, are also “being considered,” the source said.

While HBO shows will be the cornerstone of these partnerships, the deals could be expanded to include content from other WBD brands, including Cartoon Network, the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, the source said. WBD already operate free, ad-supported streaming channels for its CNN and MotorTrend brands.

At least from the start, the deals are unlikely to include popular shows that still draw viewers to HBO Max, including the brand’s popular “Game of Thrones” franchise and hit programs like “The White Lotus” and “Succession.” But the new strategy indicates WBD executives are largely abandoning the “keep everything for myself” approach that was the genesis behind HBO Max in its early days.

The shift in strategy comes as WBD executives grapple with ways to reduce the company’s debt load, while steering its direct-to-consumer streaming ambitions toward a new product that will replace HBO Max and the lifestyle entertainment service Discovery Plus. That product, which could be called “Max,” will incorporate the content libraries of HBO, Warner Bros and Discovery, and is expected to launch by next summer.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).