Warner Bros. Discovery, the name of the newly merged Warner Bros. and Discovery, has been in the news all week, and not for positive reasons. Early this week came a report that the new management (led by new CEO David Zaslav, who was previously the head of Discovery) plan on permanently shelving and never releasing the virtually-finished movies “Scoob!: Holiday Haunt” (a follow-up to 2020’s Scooby-Doo film “Scoob!”) and “Batgirl.” The reason? They figured it’d make more money as a tax write-off versus releasing the films to theaters or HBO Max. Superhero fans are shocked and livid, as the movie’s being permanently shelved for a short-term (and minuscule) tax break.
Warner Bros. Discovery conference call news
More news came on Thursday during a Warner Bros. Discovery conference call, outlining their future plans. Some of it confirms earlier rumors, but to summarize:
HBO Max and Discovery+ will merge into a single service in summer 2023. The new service’s name, pricing, etc. have yet to be determined.
Warner still plans to go ahead with releasing “The Flash” film, despite the numerous, high-profile, and embarrassing scandals its star, Ezra Miller, faces.
Warner also plans to basically gut the scripted side of HBO Max. This includes quietly removing from the service multiple Max Original movies and TV shows, and laying off as much as 70% of its staff. The idea, presumably, is to let HBO-proper (the cable channel) take over running things and programming the streaming side. It’ll also supposedly save money, as the merger left the company $55 billion in debt. I also assume most of the Max Original TV shows won’t make the jump to being HBO-proper shows, and get canceled. Which ones make the cut and which ones don’t is a good question.
Cuts are also planned for Warner’s animation division.
We’ll also see an increased emphasis on “unscripted” programming (read: reality shows).
The conference call announced the launch a free ad-supported streaming service similar to Tubi or Pluto TV, in the only good news out of all of this.
Finally, the conference call oddly gendered their company’s two services:
— Variety (@Variety) August 4, 2022
The future of HBO Max and Discovery+
Since its launch, HBO Max has had issues getting off the ground. Recently, however, it seems to have overcome its early issues: it’s now on all platforms; it’s now cheaper than Netflix; and the variety of content it carries has made it somewhat popular, including as a Netflix replacement.
Many expected the two services would merge; however, the gutting of HBO Max’s unique aspects just to save money (and to promote mediocre reality shows) is disappointing. I can get reality shows from the other services I subscribe to… which are also all cheaper than what HBO Max runs.
None of this also seems to bode well for Discovery+ fans. I’m wondering how Warner will try to lure Discovery+ customers to a more expensive combined service that carries stuff they don’t care about. Currently, Discovery+ costs $5/month for the ad-based tier, or $7/month for the ad-free tier. HBO Max, meanwhile, runs $10/month for the ad-based tier and $15/month for the ad-free tier.
The future of Warner Bros. Discovery
Warner’s future under Discovery won’t be much to crow about, for multiple reasons.
As penny-pinching reality show producers, the new owners seem to have little regard for, and are indifferent about, scripted entertainment, and it shows. Never mind HBO Max’s audience isn’t shelling out $15/month to mainly watch stuff like “90 Day Fiance.”
The new owners claim to have a “10 year plan” for DC Comics’ movies, but given previous owners have had similar plans, I don’t see much beyond “business as usual.” The Hollywood Reporter has an article on DC’s situation; this quote says it best: “Warner Bros. wants to reach the heights of Marvel Studios, but it lacks the patience and understanding of its characters to ever get there.”
Shelving “Batgirl” while going full speed ahead with “The Flash” (no pun intended) is a bad look, however it’s spun.
The management’s behavior, including the “Batgirl” shelving, sends a message to creators to go look for work at rival studios. Why work for a company willing to shelve a completed film as a tax write-off?
With the impending layoffs, budget-cutting, etc., I imagine morale isn’t too high for Warner Bros. employees right now.
Concerns have been raised about the lack of diversity in the new company’s management. Zaslav implies it’s not a priority going forward, citing the old chestnut about hiring “the best people he could find.” Too often, the “best people” end up looking very White and male, which is the case for Warner Bros. Discovery’s new management.
Overall, outside of plans for a Pluto TV/Tubi-like service, there’s little encouraging news for the future of Warner Bros. Discovery. At best, it’ll be similar to Warner’s management under AT&T: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Any creative success stories (hit films, etc.) will be in spite of, and not because of, Warner’s new owners.
Meanwhile, I don’t think Disney, Paramount, or Comcast will lose much sleep over their rival’s vaguely-defined plans. Paramount+ seems to be doing fine as-is right now. I also don’t think any of this is a sign streaming services are all doomed, or that we should all switch back to cable, which isn’t happening.
In my case, I had just gotten used to the idea of HBO Max being something to keep as an ongoing service. Given all of the above (plus a few other reasons), I’m just going to cancel HBO Max. Like Netflix, HBO Max (and its replacement) will just get demoted to an occasional “binge and cancel” service. Why bother getting attached to any of HBO Max’s programs, if they might get canceled to make room for shows about ghost chasing and UFOs?
Photo by Marco Verch (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)
Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.