Warner Bros. Discovery is taking the HBO out of HBO Max.
After months of anticipation, the company has finally revealed that the sort-of merger between HBO Max and Discovery+ will commence May 23, and the relaunched service will be named, simply, “Max.”
Warner Bros. Discovery also announced Max will launch with a price of $15.99 per month (or $149.99/year) at its ad-free pricing tier and $9.99 per month (or $99.99/year) for the cheaper, ad-supported subscription. There’s also an “Ultimate” ad-free plan for $19.99 per month (or $199.99/year) that allows four concurrent streams, 4K resolution, 100 offline downloads, and Dolby Atmos sound.
With an exception for that new, priciest tier, those are exactly the prior costs of the respective HBO Max-alone tiers (following a January price hike). All this arrives exactly three years after the initial launch of HBO Max in the midst of the pandemic back in May 2020.
The new Max streamer will feature the films and TV shows from HBO Max along with a good chunk of (but not all) programming previously exclusive to Discovery+.
“From the biggest superheroes to real-life champions; from culture shaping dramas to taste shaping entertainment; from fantastical realms to the realest of worlds, Max will offer an unrivaled range of choice,” JB Perrette, president & CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery streaming, said at the Max launch event on Wednesday. “This new brand signals an important change from two narrower products, HBO Max and Discovery+, to our broader content offering and consumer proposition. While each product offered something for some people, Max will have a broad array of quality choices for everybody.”
WBD also announced multiple new TV programs during the event. In the biggest announcement, after reports earlier in the month that Warner Bros. Discovery was planning a TV show adaptation of JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, the series has been officially ordered by Max. The series was described as a “faithful adaptation” of the original novels, featuring a new cast leading seasons based on each of the seven books.
The news comes after the “Harry Potter” franchise, the highest-selling book series of all time, has become a lightning rod due to Rowling’s history of outspoken transphobia. Rowling’s controversial statements led to calls to boycott this spring’s video game spinoff “Hogwarts Legacy,” though the game ultimately sold extremely well. The film franchise is one of Warner Bros.’ most valuable properties, grossing $7.7 billion globally, although the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” spinoff series sputtered with the underperformance of last year’s “The Secrets of Dumbledore.” Rowling will remain involved with the series, executive producing alongside Neil Blair and Ruth Kenley-Letts.
There was speculation from the minute the Warner Bros. Discovery merger was approved that the two streamers would combine, but HBO Max and Discovery+ make for odd bedfellows. Discovery+ focuses on cheap (and often not particularly highbrow) content like “Dr. Pimple Popper: This Is Zit”; HBO Max’s scope is broad — it offers adult and kids cartoons, reality shows, and a library of classic films courtesy of Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies — but it’s best known for hosting the scripted, “prestige” programming of the HBO premium cable channel it’s named after.
In the initial announcement of the merger, Zaslav and WBD executives attempted to emphasize how a merged platform would make sense and combine the strengths of both products, which led to gaffes like a PowerPoint slide that claimed HBO Max had a “male skew” and Discovery+ had a “female skew.”
But while the new Max service will integrate programming from both platforms, WBD recently changed its tune about eliminating Discovery+ and will keep it as a standalone product. That’s because, although Discovery+ is much smaller than HBO Max, it’s also much cheaper, and The Wall Street Journal reported in February that it has achieved profitability. WBD’s direct-to-consumer division recorded a $217 million loss in Q4 2022, due to losses from HBO Max and HBO linear.
What’s more, the two streamers have relatively little overlap in terms of customer base: as of the fourth quarter of 2022, WBD reported it had 96.1 million direct-to-consumer subscribers, counting HBO Max, Discovery+, and linear HBO. The company doesn’t report the total for each service, but Discovery+ has been reported to have about 20 million subscribers and HBO Max and linear HBO have around 76 million together. According to Wells Fargo equity analysts in February, 4 million U.S. consumers have both a Discovery+ and HBO Max subscription.
The relaunch of HBO Max to “Max” is the culmination of several months of cost-cutting at the popular and well-received streamer, in an attempt to increase its profitability and cut around $3 billion worth of its debt. The cost-cutting measures have affected multiple areas at the company — including layoffs in multiple divisions like CNN and Warner Bros. Television as well as restructuring at TBS and TNT — but HBO Max received the most high-profile impacts, including the permanent shelving of a streaming exclusive “Batgirl” film.
WBD has since pulled around 80 shows, films, or specials from the streamer and canceled several unreleased projects like “Minx” Season 2. These cuts reportedly helped WBD take advantage of tax write-offs during its first year of operations.
Below, take a look at some of the other projects announced during the press conference:
Max has ordered series expansions of several WBD franchises. A series based on “The Conjuring” horror films was announced, with New DC Studios CEO Peter Safran returning to the franchise as executive producer; James Wan, who directed many of the films, is in talks to executive produce, and his Atomic Monster Productions banner produces with Safran’s The Safran Company in association with Warner Bros. Television.
Another announced project was an untitled comedy series “derived from” “The Big Bang Theory,” the popular CBS sitcom that ran from 2007 to 2019. Original series creator Chuck Lorre will develop the series for Max, and executive produce via his Chuck Lorre Productions banner for Warner Bros. Television. No plot details were announced; Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and Kaley Cuoco starred in the original show, but it’s unclear if they will return for this spinoff.
Aside from the various scripted streaming programs, WBD also showcased and announced several reality programs during the event. In a tie-in to Warner Bros. “Barbie” film coming out this July, HGTV has ordered “Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge,” a competition series focusing on eight teams as they renovate Southern California homes into real life dollhouses inspired by the “Barbie” toy line. The show, hosted by Ashley Graham, will premiere this Summer on HGTV and stream on Max.
TLC has ordered “Love and Translation,” a reality dating series in which three American men live with twelve women, none of whom speak English, in the same home and explore connections. The show premieres this Winter and is produced by Sharp Entertainment, a part of Sony Pictures Television, for TLC.
Magnolia ordered “Fixer Upper – The Hotel,” a new installment in the “Fixer Upper” franchise starring home renovators and married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines. The show will focus on the Gaines as they renovate a Waco, Texas building to open a new establishment, Hotel 1928. The series will premiere this Fall, timed to the October opening of Hotel 1928; the series will consist of six episodes, and is produced by the Gaines’ Blind Nil banner.
Discovery announced a greenlight on “Survive the Raft,” a nine-episode reality show about nine contestants as they struggle to spend 21 days at sea competing in physical and intellectual challenges. The “Survivor” esque program will premiere in July on the Discovery Channel and stream on Max; Critical Content produces the series.
Max also got into the reality series game by ordering “SmartLess: on the Road,” a six-part docuseries starring actors Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes, as they take their titular podcast on the road and travel the country. Sam Jones directs the series, which premieres on May 23; a trailer was screened exclusively during the presentation. Arnett, Bateman, Hayes, and Jones, executive produce with Ross M. Dinerstein. Ross Girard co-executive produces and Mark McCune produces. The series comes to Max from Campfire Studios.
During the presentation, WBD executives emphasized the goal of Max is to appeal to the whole family. Accordingly, they unveiled the premiere date for the upcoming “Gremlins: Secret of the Mogwai” animated series, and announced a new animated project “Peter and the Wolf.”
“Secret of the Mogwai” will premiere on Max May 23. The series is a prequel to the ’80s fantasy movies about the mysterious Gremlin race, and focuses on a young boy Sam Wing living in 1920s Shanghai as he journeys across China to bring the Gremlin Gizmo home. Ming-Na Wen, James Hong, BD Wong, Matthew Rhys, Izaac Wang, AJ LoCascio, and Gabrielle Nevaeh Green are all part of the main voice cast of the show, and original film star Zach Galligan will guest star. Amblin Television produces the show, which is showrun by Tze Chun.
“Peter and the Wolf” is a co-production between Max and Cartoon Network, and is an adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 musical composition. The short film, which focuses on a 12-year-old boy hunting for a wolf while grieving the death of his parents, will feature music and narration by Gavin Friday who developed the project in 2003 to support the Irish Hospice Foundation. Friday narrates the film and leads the Friday Seezer Ensemble in a new arrangement of Prokofiev’s score he developed with Maurice Seezer. The animation, which combines 2D drawings with physical sets, is based on illustrations from “U2” frontman Bono. Elliot Dear and Stephen McNally direct, while Adriana Piasek-Wanski produces. The film will premiere on Max and Cartoon Network later this year.