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HBO Max Sure Picked a Weird Time to Increase Its Price

HBO Max is only raising the subscription by $1, but that comes after the removal of content from the service and months before an expected merger with Discovery+.

Westworld Evan Rachel Wood new character

Evan Rachel Wood in “Westworld”

John P. Johnson / HBO

If comedy is all about timing, then HBO Max picked a funny time for its first price increase. The streamer, which launched in May 2020, is hiking up its commercial-free subscription by $1, and will now cost $15.99 per month.

The extra dollar will “allow us to continue to invest in providing even more culture-defining programming and improving our customer experience for all users,” according to a statement released Thursday morning by the HBO Max team.

“Effective today, Thursday, January 12, the price of a new HBO Max ad-free monthly subscription in the U.S. will increase from $14.99 to $15.99 plus applicable taxes,” the statement reads. “Existing subscribers who are currently paying $14.99/month will see their monthly rate increase to $15.99 effective their next billing cycle on or after Saturday, February 11, 2023.”

While a modest increase after more than two-and-a-half years is reasonable, it is bizarre timing. In recent months, HBO Max has made countless headlines for erasing a ton of content from its servers. Some, like the completed “Batgirl” movie, never premiered. Other stuff, like “Westworld,” was removed with plans to resurface on a still-to-come FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) app.

All told, at least 81 titles were removed from HBO Max since August 2021 (not including cases like “Batgirl,” where shows or films were shelved prior to release). With some exceptions — like the removal of “Looney Tunes” shorts and three seasons of “The Flintstones,” which occurred due to the expiration of a intra-company deal — the majority of these removals are reportedly so Warner Bros. Discovery can take tax breaks and write-offs. Although these content write downs are supposedly done after the 2022 calendar year, the massive lost of trust within the HBO Max userbase is alive and well.

The price hike also comes within months of the expected merger of HBO Max with the Discovery+ streaming service. That alone will almost certainly command another price increase, as ad-free Max is now $15.99 per month and Discovery+ is $6.99. (HBO Max with commercials costs $9.99 per month; ad-supported Discovery+ currently costs $4.99.)

As to that whole “customer experience” thing, HBO Max has become notorious since its launch for being one of the buggier streaming services, with subscribers reporting issues with navigation, rewinding or fast-forwarding titles, and other problems regarding the user experience. HBO Max’s team also acknowledged these issues, with Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels saying earlier this month during a conference panel that the streamer offers a “subpar consumer experience.’

“The reality is, you only get one chance for a first impression with the consumer, and we’re not going to launch something that is not adequate. We’re going to come out with a great product from a consumer-experience perspective, and that’s frankly the biggest holdback for HBO Max right now. The experience is not where it needs to be,” Wiendenfels said during the conference. “Let’s just say it’s not manageable as efficiently as you’d like a modern-day technology product to work.”

As of the end of 2022, HBO and HBO Max combined for roughly 76.8 million global subscribers.

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