It began under the cover of a busy news month with the removal of six HBO Max original movies from the prestige streaming service that they were created for. But it wasn’t until the cancellation of the nearly-finished Batgirl movie in early August that Warner Bros. Discovery’s price-cutting plans for HBO Max really began to fall into place. The newest additions to the cutting block are 36 titles, including 20 HBO Max originals, which will leave the streamer by the end of this week. It’s another hint that the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery has a very different vision for what has become for many a favorite streaming service.
What Shows Are Getting Removed From HBO Max?
It begins with another DC HBO Max Original, Aquaman: King of Atlantis, then moves onto more HBO Max Original animation shows like Esme & Roy, The Fungies!, Infinity Train, and Summer Camp Island. From there we lose a bunch of Cartoon Network shows Dodo Elliott From Earth, Mao Mao, Heroes of Pure Heart, Mighty Magiswords, OK K.O.! – Let’s Be Heroes, Uncle Grandpa, and Victor and Valentino. They even cut some acquired titles like Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. We have a running list of all the HBO Max shows that have been removed so far as well.
During the time of writing this piece, Tough Pigs (a popular Muppets fansite) also reported that HBO Max has now erased over 200 older episodes of Sesame Street—an acquisition that was a huge deal when the five year deal was first announced in 2019—overnight. This was later confirmed by Variety, which broke down the numbers and agreed that just 29 episodes from classic seasons remain. This continues a trend that looks worrying for Sesame Workshop and their relationship with the streamer as one of the high profile original cuts was The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo.
Why is Warner Bros. Discovery Deleting Shows and Movies From HBO Max?
The official statement issued by HBO Max doesn’t do much to answer the “why” behind the ever-growing number of cuts. “As we work toward bringing our content catalogs together under one platform, we will be making changes to the content offering available on both HBO Max and discovery+ that will include the removal of some content from both platforms.” But looking at other choices that Warner Bros. Discovery made recently alongside recent reporting, there are some obvious things we can glean from the cuts.
As the high-profile and honestly shocking cancellation of superhero movie Batgirl and the Paul Dini written family flick Scoob! 2 A Holiday Haunt prove, Zaslav is not afraid of getting rid of finished or nearly finished content in order to take a tax write down. According to Variety, that is an almost certainty on both of those titles as a way for Warner Bros. Discovery to recoup the costs. That was seemingly cemented when the merged company’s Q2 earnings report came out and showed that they had already taken a massive $825 million tax write down on content. That included shows like The Last O.G. and movies like another upcoming DC movie The Wonder Twins. Timing wise, Batgirl and Scoob would not have been included in the write down so we can expect it to be included in the corporation’s next quarter write down and report. Looking at that trend it’s easy to worry that many of these titles will meet the same fate.
Digging deeper into the choice, Indiewire’s Tony Maglio said, “The content being targeted for removal tends to be shows and movies that are not performing on the service, but have an opportunity for a partial [tax] write off. Content costs can be amortized — or assigned a cost that gets recognized by an entity across multiple years — over the program or film’s expected lifetime. If years on that timeline remain, a company can remove that asset from distribution and use its remaining cost balance to offset taxable income elsewhere.”
That would not be the only financial advantage for the corporation, though, as Variety reported “taking off the titles from streaming would also help Warner Bros. Discovery cut costs by removing lesser-watched programs to save money on residuals.”
And if you’re wondering how much these cuts might have made Warner Bros. Discovery, CNBC reports it could be “tens of millions of dollars” according to people familiar with the situation.
How is This Different From Shows Leaving Other Streaming Services Every Month?
We all know that streaming services move content around frequently. In fact, it’s so common that there’s regular reporting on what is coming and going from each service every month in order to keep viewers up to date. It makes a lot of sense as it’s one of the ways in which these companies keep viewers coming back. In most cases the things that come and go from streaming services are movies and TV shows that are licensed by the service to be housed there for a certain amount of time. That’s why you’ll often see movies and shows move from one service to another, or in some cases be available on multiple services at once.
So why is what Warner Bros. Discovery doing with HBO Max doing different? It all comes down to what’s being removed. 20 of the titles being removed were HBO Max Originals, which means they were made to stream exclusively on the service. Now that they’re being removed it’s unclear whether or not they’ll exist anywhere else. That currently seems unlikely given Warner Bros. Discovery’s current plan and motive for removing shows. This not only affects consumers but also the creators of the shows, many of whom only found out when the lists were released online.
Where Will the HBO Max Originals Go?
This is the big question. But the answer is unclear. Seeing as even creators like Julia Pott, the creator of HBO Max’s gorgeous animated series Summer Camp Island, didn’t know about the removals or their fate, we don’t have any concrete answers.
We worked for 5 years to make 100 episodes of animation. We worked late into the night, we let ourselves go, we were a family of hard working artists who wanted to make something beautiful, and HBO MAX just pulled them all like we were nothing. Animation is not nothing!
— Julia Pott (@juliapott) August 18, 2022
In the case of Summer Camp Island—which had an entire unaired season ready to go before it was pulled—Pott recently updated followers that Cartoon Network (also under the Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella) had agreed to air the remaining episodes. But when it comes to the fate of the rest of the pulled shows is currently not as clear.
Some of the six HBO Max original movies that were pulled in August appeared for rental on video on demand services after they were pulled, so we could possibly see that happen here. There is also the slim chance that some of these shows could reemerge when the recently announced merged discovery+ HBO Max service comes out in the next couple of years, but that is very much just a “maybe.”
What Does This Mean For Your HBO Max Subscription?
In the most short term sense, it means you will be paying HBO Max the same price for less. At least that will be the case if you don’t take advantage of their recently revealed one year discount plan, which was rolled out within 24 hours of the cuts hitting the news.
After this week there will be 36 less titles for you to watch when you log into the app, and from the way things are trending this will not be the last content cut that the service takes. This move also heavily suggests that the eclectic programing which has made HBO Max such a hit may not be around for too much longer.
After a less than auspicious launch, the thing that’s defined HBO Max throughout its two year journey to becoming a major player and gaining a 76 million strong subscriber base is its varied but curated programming. Want to watch Emmy-winning comedy dramas like Barry? Done. Need to catch up on hard to watch classic and world cinema? Head to the TCM hub. Got kids to entertain or just love brilliant animation? You’re in the right place. And that’s before you even get to the expansive selection of blockbuster movies, lesser-seen gems, and original TV.
HBO Max Spotlight: August 2022
We knew from the recent investor call that Warner Bros. Discovery was interested in cutting kids programming on both streaming and linear (read that as HBO Max and Cartoon Network). It’s an ironic choice when two of the biggest selling points the streamer has for viewers of all ages include the entire Studio Ghibli library–streaming for the first time ever in the US–and their previously massive Cartoon Network collection. But Zaslav had been talking about his skepticism for animation on HBO Max as early as May in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. The amount of animation that was cut this week shows that Zaslav means business… if business means gutting one of the strongest parts of the HBO Max catalog, that is.
Looking longer term this is going to impact the way that creators approach making shows for streamers, especially ones under the HBO Max banner. Deadendia creator Hamish Steele explained why this is so bad for creators.
What’s happening at HBO Max is so scary from a creator perspective? Like making a show for a streamer, you rarely get a chance for a physical release, or for it to air anywhere else, and being reminded they can just delete it from existence, all your work, your portfolio, awful!
— FlameCon Table A10 | Hamish Steele (@hamishsteele) August 18, 2022
It’s a great and well articulated point that this movecould absolutely scare creators off from wanting to invest years of their lives in a show that could just… disappear off its only platform. And if reporting about this being a cost-cutting measure by Variety, Deadline, and others is true, then these shows and the art and work that went into them really could just be lost forever. Creators of other series that were cut acknowledged this in numerous ways, one of the most bleakly funny being Owen Dennis, the creator of Infinity Train changing his bio to include “Creator of #InfinityTrain, a show that got pulled from @HBOMax and can now only be pirated.”
Ultimately this is another disappointing but much needed reminder that buying physical media is the only way to truly own art that you love. Otherwise you’re just licensing the right to watch your favorite film or TV show from a corporation, who—just like Warner Bros. Discovery is doing—can take it away from you at any time.
Rosie Knight is a contributing freelancer for IGN covering everything from anime to comic books to kaiju to kids movies to horror flicks. Rosie is a published comics author who has written titles including Godzilla Rivals vs. Battra and The Haunted High-Tops. She co-hosts the weekly Crooked Media pop-culture podcast X-Ray Vision.
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