HBO Max is dead. Long live … Max? After almost three years of building up the HBO Max brand, Warner Bros. Discovery has decided to pivot in a major way by renaming the streaming service and combining it with another one. Here's what the change means for you:
What is Max in comparison to HBO Max?
Essentially, Max is the same thing as HBO Max, only combined with Discovery+ and without the HBO in its name.
After WarnerMedia and Discovery merged in 2022, the new company, Warner Bros. Discovery, owned not only the streaming service HBO Max, but also Discovery+. So CEO David Zaslav decided to combine them into a single streaming offering, and that's what Max is. The name of the service was officially unveiled during a press event on April 12.
HBO Max itself was already a combination of HBO shows and all of WarnerMedia's other content, which led to some initial brand confusion when it launched in 2020, especially because there were also separate HBO Go and HBO Now apps at the time. After clearing all of that up, Warner Bros. Discovery could risk creating fresh confusion with this rebranding.
What kind of new content will be on Max?
Discovery+ primarily focuses on unscripted programming, and it currently houses content from HGTV, the Food Network, TLC, A&E, Lifetime, and more. It also houses CNN originals. So expect to see more shows of the Fixer Upper and 90 Day Fiancé universe variety making their way to Max.
During the April 12 press event, Zaslav pitched Max as the "place every member of the household can go to see exactly what they want at any given time, from House of the Dragon to Succession to Property Brothers to Barefoot Contessa." The company is promoting the service using the tagline "The One to Watch."
Warner Bros. Discovery will also continue producing Max originals, including a new Harry Potter television series that will re-adapt J.K. Rowling's seven original books.
How much is it?
Like the current version of HBO Max, Max will have an ad-supported tier, which will cost $9.99 a month. It will also have an ad-free tier that costs $15.99 a month, the same price as HBO Max without ads is now.
But Max is also adding a third subscription tier, which is being dubbed the "ultimate ad-free" plan. This is the tier that includes 4K resolution video and the ability to have four concurrent streams compared to two streams for the other plans. The two cheaper plans will only offer 1080 resolution. This will be a change from HBO Max, which currently offers 4K video on its $15.99 a month plan. But "HBO Max subscribers will still have access to their current plan features for a minimum of six months following launch," Warner Bros. Discovery said.
Why drop the HBO branding?
The decision to drop "HBO" from "HBO Max" may seem strange given how prestigious HBO is as a brand. But the idea seems to be to communicate that Max houses more types of programming than you'd traditionally expect to find on HBO, especially with the Discovery+ content added into the mix.
Indeed, in an earnings call last year announcing plans to combine the services, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO and President of Global Streaming and Games JB Perrette said HBO Max and Discovery+ are "unique and complementary" services, as the former offers "appointment viewing," while the latter offers "comfort viewing." Perrette added that the "appointment viewing" shows are necessary for acquiring subscribers, while the more "comfort viewing" shows help retain them, as viewers will watch the latter content for "hours on end." The overall goal is to reduce churn, a.k.a. the loss of subscribers.
"Holding subs is as important as adding subs, and together, they pack a really powerful one-two punch," Zaslav said this week.
While HBO is a strong brand, it's generally associated more with award-winning prestige shows, rather than so-called comfort viewing. "Dropping HBO from the name is cementing that 'we're not just a home for premium programming,'" Parrot Analytics director of strategy Julia Alexander told The New York Times. "We're the home for anything you want to watch.'" But this idea has received some pushback, with The Bulwark culture editor Sonny Bunch tweeting it's "so sad" that Warner Bros. Discovery has "one of the most storied and recognizable brands in all of entertainment — HBO, a three-letter stand in for 'excellence' — and want to trash it because they think reality TV watchers are intimidated by it."
During the April 12 press event, Perrette said the company didn't want to force HBO "to take on the full breadth of this new content proposition had we kept the name in the service brand," and the presentation repeatedly emphasized that HBO itself isn't changing. Perrette explained another reason for dropping the HBO name was to make clear that Max also offers kids programming, such as Sesame Street. "We all love HBO, and it's a brand," he said, "but it's not exactly where parents would most eagerly drop off their kids."
Will I automatically have Max if I currently have HBO Max?
Yes, all current HBO Max subscribers will have access to Max. The company says that on launch day, the HBO Max app will automatically update to Max for a "large portion" of users. Some, though, will be prompted to download the new Max app when they open HBO Max.
Can we expect any changes to the app?
The Max app previewed during this week's press event looked similar to the current one for HBO Max, but the company teased some improvements. For one, Perrette promised the new app will be "20 to 30 percent faster." There will also be a new navigation menu making it easier to find content on the app, as well as a new quick shortcut to save content to watch later and new personalized recommendations. New subscribers will now have a default kids' profile, as well.
Will Discovery+ still exist?
Yes. Even though HBO Max and Discovery+ are combining into Max, Discovery+ will also remain a standalone service and app for those only interested in the kind of content it offers and who aren't willing to pay what Max costs. Discovery+ subscribers "will be unaffected by any of these changes," Perrette said, adding that "we will continue to nourish and delight them on Discovery+ if that's where they prefer to stay." Still, some content that was originally developed for Discovery+ will be turned into Max originals, the company said.
When is Max launching?
Warner Bros. Discovery has set Max's launch for May 23.