After less than three years, HBO Max is already getting a rebrand. Warner Bros. Discovery officially announced on Wednesday that the service, set to relaunch on May 23, will henceforth be known as just “Max” (cue the “Social Network” quote).
The decision to drop the HBO name, borrowed from the premium-cable channel owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, is one that has left many observers scratching their heads. But, during a Q&A session on the Warner Bros. Studio Burbank lot following Max’s unveiling, HBO and Max Content Head Casey Bloys told press that the prestige the HBO name provides is the exact reason it’s being yanked off the streamer.
“The same people who are concerned today about taking ‘HBO’ out of the name….were outraged that ‘HBO’ was put in the name in the first place, that it was called ‘HBO Max,'” Bloys told a room of reporters. “It was a lot of, ‘How was HBO going to be put next to ‘The Big Bang Theory?'” he recalled.
“So I understand and appreciate the passion that people feel for the HBO brand and protecting and believing — nobody believes that more than me and my team,” Bloys continued. “It’s a premium brand. It is not designed to take on everything in the streaming service.”
HBO, which launched in 1972 but only began extensively producing and airing original programming during the ’90s, has a strong reputation for high-quality, expensive, and generally “prestigious” television shows, like “Succession,” “The Sopranos,” and “Game of Thrones.” Although one of HBO Max’s biggest draws is the access it provides to HBO shows, the streamer’s reach is considerably wider — it features children’s programming like “Sesame Street,” DC Comics superhero shows, iconic cinema from Turner Classic Films and The Criterion Collection, anime via Crunchyroll, and a grab-bag of shows from Warner Bros. Television like “The Big Bang Theory” and “The O.C.”
Prior to the Max rebrand, there was a slightly awkward divide between HBO originals and HBO Max originals; the streamer produces a few series that fit in with the “prestige” trappings of HBO like “Station Eleven” or “Hacks,” but it also puts out shows that include reboots of teen fare like “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars,” as well as kids shows like the upcoming “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.”
As to why WBD heads opted to go with just “Max” instead of slapping the Warner Bros. name on it, the company’s streaming head JB Perrette said that possibility was one of the first items discussed after the Warner Bros. and Discovery deal was announced two years ago.
“There’s real trade offs. We did look fairly briefly at various alternatives that could include Warner or include WB or could include the brand. And we just felt like, that was sort of not necessary,” Perette said. “We had ‘Max,’ which was short, tight. Says something universal. Yes, the risk was ultimately that it’s sort of maybe less own-able because it’s a common word. But the flip side is that also made it very approachable and very easy. And when frankly, we found ourselves talking about [HBO Max], the shorthand was always ‘Max.’ We never said even HBO, we would just say ‘it’s on Max.'”
According to David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, the Max name worked for the streamer because it had “elasticity.” Furthermore, he claimed that market research from Bloys and his team indicated the Max name already had brand recognition and was recognized for high-quality content.
“‘What streaming service has the highest quality, what streaming service has the series that you love the most?'” Zaslav said. “And to give that up, by coming up with a different name, a lot of people view Max as already the top of the heap in that category.”
Although the HBO name has been dropped from Max, its new logo does feature a nod to the cable channel, via a design in which the letter “A” mimics HBO’s classic logo. That move, Perrette said, was entirely deliberate: “We loved the fact that it did signal some nod to the legacy and the history. And it gave Max a differentiated look than just three letters. So we like the dot in the Max as that sort of differentiator and still a nod to history.”
Aside from dropping the HBO from Max, WBD has signaled their priorities for the rebooted streamer by focusing on franchises and existing IP during the unveiling. The final announcement during the Wednesday press conference was the official order of a “Harry Potter” TV adaptation, and other shows teased included a “Batman” spinoff focusing on The Penguin, a “Conjuring” show, and a new “Big Bang Theory” spinoff.
Tony Maglio contributed reporting.