Opinion: HBO maxes out viewers

By Sebastian Aguilar, Blobcast Show Manager

HBO Max has been hemorrhaging shows ever since the CEO David Zaslav announced a new content direction in anticipation of HBO Max and Discovery+ merging into one service. 

HBO Max previously prided itself on being the home for everything under the Warner Brothers umbrella. 

Current HBO offerings include originals like Game of Thrones, Veep and Succession, Adult Swim properties like The Boondocks, The Venture Bros and Aqua Team Hunger Force and any movies owned by Warner Brothers such as Citizen Kane, Harry Potter and Space Jam.

However, this all changed with the finalization of Warner Media’s merger with Discovery. This resulted in the media mega-conglomerate Warner Bros Discovery (WBD). Amid the closing of this deal was a massive restructuring effort resulting in Discovery’s CEO Zaslav at the helm of WBD. For the first few months, nothing functionally changed with the content on HBO Max. This didn’t last long, however, as Zaslav announced an overhaul of many divisions within the Warner Brothers content field.

Over the past month, many series were canceled or unrenewed left and right, and 36 titles were announced as leaving the streaming service. 

Twenty HBO Max originals were going to be removed, including Close Enough, Infinity Train and a Sesame Street spinoff. Most prominently the movie Bat Girl was axed, even though it was already out of post production. 

Many HBO Max subscribers have expressed anger after dozens of original titles have been canceled. This includes large amounts of animated content, as well as the cancellation of anticipated projects like Bat Girl.

The official reason given for Bat Girl’s cancellation was that the movie didn’t fit in the new direction Zaslav is pushing DC. However, it was reported by Variety that WBD is taking a tax write-off on the film to recoup the losses for production. 

For the 36 other titles, their removal was to cut costs due to low viewer numbers, which makes sense as a reason for cancellation. It would even justify removal if they were licensed shows that they bought from other companies to be on HBO Max. That’s standard in the streaming industry. However, 20 of these shows were made in-house for HBO Max with Warner Brothers money. 

By removing Max original content, they are functionally throwing all the money they put into production, marketing and distribution down the drain. It would be like if Netflix removed Big Mouth for not reaching their viewer target. If a show you created for your site fails commercially, you shouldn’t remove the program completely, you should just leave it and hope it gets a cult fan base later.

HBO Max may never have outright said they wanted to be the streaming home of animation; however, they functionally created one. Out of the 10 brand hubs that Max displays on its site, six are animation based, like Cartoon Network and Studio Ghibli.They announced new animated movies such as Batman: The Caped Crusader and The Amazing World of Gumball: the Movie, which were subsequently canceled during this content purge.

The Max originals and DC hubs, while not solely animation based, contain a fair amount of original animated content like Close Enough and Young Justice. By removing them from HBO Max, it has become nearly impossible to watch them without resorting to piracy.

The fallout of this content purge from HBO Max is that many writers, animators and content creators have lost trust in WBD to respect their work enough to keep it on the platform.

 Owen Dennis, one of the creators of the removed show Infinity Train, revealed on his personal blog, “Cartoon Network warned Zaslav not to do this as it would hurt relationships with creators and talent, but they clearly do not care what any of this looks like publicly, much less about how we feel about it.”

Reaction from the creators of shows across the industry has been extremely negative. 

“What is the point of making something, spending years working on it, putting in nights and weekends doing their terrible notes, losing sleep and not seeing our families, if it’s just going to be taken away and shot in the backyard?” Dennis asked.