David Zaslav

Source: Warner Bros Discovery

David Zaslav

Warner Bros Discovery’s (WBD) long-awaited streaming platform combining HBO Max and Discovery+ is called Max and will launch in the US on May 23.

The Max Ad-Free tier will stay at $15.99 per month, and the cost of Max Ad-Lite remains $9.99. Users will need to pay $19.99 for the new Max Ultimate Ad Free plan offering 4K UHD resolution, 100 offline downloads, and Dolby Atmos sound quality.

WBD will issue announcements for its international service, which continues to roll out, in due course.

In an hour-long presentation on Wednesday (April 12), WBD CEO David Zaslav and key executives expressed their pride in the company’s content stable and explained their rationale in building a service they hope will rival those of Netflix and Disney+ in the streaming wars.

Max combines content from Warner Bros – which is celebrating its centenary this year – HBO, Cartoon Network, CNN, Adult Swim, back catalogue content from Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera and others with the lifestyle and reality-oriented fare of Discovery+, which will also remain a stand-alone service due to its profitability and low subscriber churn.

The streamer will bring 40 new titles and seasons every month. Wednesday’s presentation name-checked a lot of upcoming titles, including new series based on the Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones worlds.

HBO out of new name, will keep doing what it does

JB Perrette, WBD’s president and CEO, global streaming & games, said the new service will carry content for adults, children and families. The HBO name was excised in order to present a more broadly appealing proposition to households and parents, some of whom may have been turned off by HBO’s prestige, edgy, award-winning content. 

Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO, HBO & Max Content, is keen to preserve HBO as a purveyor of premium, more limited-appeal fare. He said it will exist as a tile on Max and will keep on doing what it has always done. Recent successes include The Last Of Us, Game Of Thrones prequel series House Of The Dragon, and The White Lotus. New instlaments are planned for all three and production is underway on Season 2 of House Of The Dragon at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden.

Perrette said WBD was prioritising a mandate to enrich the user experience, bring new members, and hold on to them. He said the goal to simplify the user experience comes at a “confusing” time when lots of streamers are operating, and navigating sites can be difficult and ultimately preclude users from venturing deeper into a platform.

Executives are aware that users spend more time on Discovery+ and are hoping that translates to Max, which in turn can attract advertisers for the Ad-Lite tier.

App will update automatically on May 23

In most cases the HBO Max app will automatically update to Max on May 23, and user passwords and billing information will migrate automatically. Personalised recommendations will extend beyond the home page and into the entire service. There will be streamlined categories, enhanced details about content, shortcuts, and brand and thematic hubs.

In its last earnings call in February WBD reported 96.1m subscribers across HBO, HBO Max and Discovery+. (WBD does not break out membership.) Netflix and Disney+ memberships are more than double that number.

Zaslav and CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels have been busy in the year since the $43bn WarnerMedia and Discovery merger closed. They have sought to balance the books and end the expensive practice of chasing subscribers at all costs. In a bid to find $4bn in cost savings over the next two years, they have laid off staff, taken a tax credit by shelving projects like Batgirl, and licensed content to other streamers.

The CEO has been a vocal advocate of theatrical distribution as a value-driver throughout the revenue waterfall and has acted on this pledge, resurrecting exclusive theatrical releases for Warner Bros and New Line films in a complete reversal of former WarnerMedia head Jason Kilar’s much maligned 2021 “Project Popcorn” Covid strategy of day-and-date releasing.

Besides the roster of series on Max, Zaslav believes the addition of features post-theatrical release will also bolster the business when they hit the streaming platform. His bullish views on theatrical come as the theatrical release calendar begins to expand in the wake of Covid, and chimes with other big media enterprises’ commitment to theatrical, among them streaming platforms Apple and Amazon.

When Zaslav introduced the session on Stage 14 of the Warner Bros lot where Casablanca shot, he spoke of a “strong sense of pride and obligation we all feel standing on the shoulders of the great Warner Bros leaders who built this studio… it really is the stuff that dreams are made of”.

He continued, “This is our time, this is our change, and everything is possible especially with the media assets, storytelling IP and the amazing creative talent that we have here at Warner Bros Discovery… this is our rendez-vous with destiny.” 

Warner Bros Discovery shares dropped nearly 6% to $14.06 at the close of trading.