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WBD scraps plans for new app, will rebrand HBO Max instead

"Max" could launch as soon as late May, timed for the third anniversary of HBO Max's debut, according to a source.

"Max" could launch as soon as late May, timed for the third anniversary of HBO Max's debut, according to a source.

Warner Bros Discovery is leaning toward "Max" as the future name of its cornerstone streaming service.
Warner Bros Discovery is leaning toward “Max” as the future name of its cornerstone streaming service. (Graphic by The Desk)

Executives at Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) have abandoned plans to build a new streaming service that was intended to replace HBO Max and Discovery Plus later this year, and will simply relaunch the existing HBO Max app under a different brand.

The move is a slight departure from WBD’s original plans, which were to sunset the HBO Max and Discovery Plus services in favor of a new product built from the ground up, one that included a merged content library of shows from the Warner Bros. and Discovery brands.

Now, WBD will simply relaunch the existing HBO Max name under a new brand, according to a developer at the company who spoke with The Desk on condition of anonymity. Executives have tentatively settled on “Max” as the service’s new name, the developer said, essentially confirming reports that were published late last year.

Company executives ultimately decided that the technology framework powering the existing HBO Max app was “good enough,” particularly after the app was overhauled last year to address bugs and glitches on various platforms like Apple TV and Roku, the source said. By relaunching HBO Max as Max, the company is also hoping to take advantage of distribution agreements for the app that are already in place with platforms like Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV, which didn’t initially offer HBO Max when it launched several years ago.

The relaunched Max app will offer a similar user interface to the existing HBO Max service. Current HBO Max streamers will have their accounts converted into a Max subscription when it launches. Executives are hoping the service is ready to debut by late May, timed for the third anniversary of HBO Max’s launch, the source noted.

On Thursday, the financial news outlet Bloomberg said “thousands of titles” will be added to the new Max app, mostly TV shows and documentaries that were available within Discovery Plus.

A headline that accompanied Bloomberg’s article said the titles would be available “at no added cost,” leading to speculation on social media that WBD would not charge more for Max compared to the current price of HBO Max. Currently, HBO Max costs $10 a month for a tier with advertisements and $16 a month for commercial-free access. The price of the commercial-free plan increased by $1 in January.

WBD executives are reportedly weighing an ultra-premium tier for Max that unlocks “better video quality and possibly other features,” Bloomberg reported, noting that the plan could be offered for as much as $20 a month. The report went on to say that plans for an ultra-premium tier could be scrapped before Max launches.

The report by Bloomberg and information provided to The Desk by a source suggest WBD’s plans for Max are still very fluid, as they have been since the moment the combined service was announced last August. While the original plans called for Discovery Plus to close when Max launched, the Wall Street Journal reported in February that executives had eased off that strategy and were leaning toward keeping Discovery Plus as a standalone, lower-cost service for reality-based shows.

WBD has also loosened its control of its own content over the last few months, as it seeks to reign in spending and tap new sources of revenue. In January, the company announced deals with Roku and Fox Corporation to put a sizable chunk of content on their free streaming services (the Roku Channel and Tubi).

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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).