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 wanting heavenly for rival HBO Max. Subscriber numbers are method 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 often brings stability in enterprise, the second half of the yr will probably 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, trade insiders are buzzing about large adjustments being contemplated on the streamer, starting from the elimination of complete program departments to even ditting the HBO Max branding altogether.
Should you’ve been paying even a bit little bit of consideration the previous few months to the reporting surrounding the Zaslav-led Discovery takeover of the previous WarnerMedia, nothing concerning the notion of great disruption at any division throughout the firm will come as a shock. Numerous 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 worldwide streaming on the firm) practically a yr to ponder how they needed 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 construct on no matter success the streamer has needed to date, in addition to repair any errors he thinks have been made by former homeowners AT&T.
Picture: Taylor Hill/WireImage
To date, Zaslav and his crew 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 in some unspecified time in the future (comparatively) quickly, as soon as the not-inconsiderable technical challenges will be found out (there’s numerous content material on Discovery) and the corporate decides how far more, if something, to cost for the supersized service. Past that, all the things else is theory — although as traditional in Hollywood, that is not preserving of us from chattering about what could also be in retailer on a number of fronts:
➽ Will Warner Bros. preserve making films only for Max? Final yr, former WarnerMedia boss Jason Kilar introduced an bold plan to have Warner Bros. Photos produce a minimum of ten large function movies immediately for Max. Considered one of them — a remake of Father of the Bride — debuted final week. However I’ve talked to trade insiders who say it is now an open query whether or not Zaslav needs to maintain soaking tens of millions into costly films that by no means see the within of a cinema. We received the primary trace of this philosophy final month when information broke that the exec had determined to scrap an already-announced Max function movie based mostly on DC’s Marvel Twins characters. THR reported the transfer was made as a result of Zaslav does 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 with a price range underneath $35 million.
Nonetheless, one trade insider tells me there is a broader debate happening inside the corporate about whether or not even lower-budget movies like Father of the Bride would possibly profit from having a quick theatrical run, significantly since all Warner films now come to Max roughly 45 days after opening in moviehouses. That will successfully finish the concept of Warner Bros. Photos making films immediately for Max, although it is doable the studio may nonetheless make the identical variety of movies in complete: They’d simply play in theaters earlier than leaping to streaming. Whereas this is able to fly in opposition to present typical knowledge within the movie enterprise that there is no longer room for “smaller” movies in cinemas, “Zaslav could be very a lot a believer in theatrical home windows,” one trade supply instructed 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 reveals headed to Max as a part of the plan to unite the apps, there was discuss large cuts to Max’s unscripted crew for months. Insider’s Elaine Low final month reported on trade hypothesis that prime unscripted execs on the Warners aspect might be headed for the exits quickly, whereas final week Puck Information famous that Max unscripted staffers — the oldsters behind titles resembling Legendary and FBoy Island — have been satisfied layoffs have been going to be introduced final Friday though there have been no such bulletins deliberate. However as Puck additionally famous, these staffers are probably proper to be fearful. Given Discovery’s experience on the unscripted entrance, trade insiders I spoke with this week inform me it is doable Staff Zaslav would possibly resolve to only eradicate 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 record for Warner Bros. Discovery execs, there’s as soon as once more speak that the HBO Max identify might not be lengthy for this world. Hypothesis a couple of identify change has been happening virtually 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 have been involved that HBO had little or no resonance for audiences outdoors of the US (In a lot of Europe, for example, HBO applications have lengthy aired underneath the Sky TV banner.) CNBC’s Alex Sherman has been throughout this inside 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 have been on the brink 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” does 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 reveals would nonetheless be branded as such on the app, after all, however the advertising for the platform would then deal with HBO reveals 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 a giant AT&T mistake, although he really argues for a barely much less dramatic change to the identify. “It ought to all the time have been HBO+,” he mentioned, predicting the present “Max” moniker “won’t final.”
As fascinating because the pro-name change argument could also be, Zaslav might finally resolve 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 doable adjustments at Max mentioned on this week’s e-newsletter, it’s price repeating: That is hypothesis. In line with a number of sources acquainted with the pondering of Warner Bros. Uncover execs, little or no ultimate has been determined past combining HBO Max and Discovery+. So whereas there are sturdy hints that some layoffs are all however sure to hit Max’s reality-TV crew, they might find yourself being much less dramatic than what some within the reality-TV neighborhood worry.
Likewise, when it comes to Max unique films, THR‘s reporting signifies these titles with decrease budgets and already within the pipeline will in all probability be positive. Zaslav might resolve to maintain having his film studio produce a slate of cost-conscious movies unique to Max. Or he may merely resolve that, transferring ahead, those self same titles now deemed “Max Originals” will get a minimum of some type of theatrical launch, even when box-office expectations are modest. In that case, that might be win-win for the movie studio (it is nonetheless making films) and the streaming aspect (they’re nonetheless getting films which might be model new to the overwhelming majority of subscribers).
What additionally appears unlikely to alter a lot is the HBO Max content material crew run by community vet Casey Bloys, which as famous earlier has been on fireplace of late. Headed into subsequent month’s Emmy nominations, the combo of HBO and HBO Max is the favourite to attain essentially 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 a minimum of a bit little bit of that Recreation of Thrones magic.
Even earlier than the streaming period, HBO has gone by durations the place issues have appeared a bit bumpy and observers have questioned its future (keep in mind all these tales declaring the community toast after The Sopranos and Intercourse and the Metropolis signed off?) It’s doable that after a yr of continuous momentum, HBO Max might be in for a bit 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 sturdy, and subscriber development stays regular, it appears probably all of the adjustments (and rumors about adjustments) swirling round HBO Max will find yourself being remembered as little greater than background noise.