HBO Max to be renamed “Max”

Warner Max collage

Last week, Warner Bros. Discovery announced their long-awaited news of the future of their main streaming service, HBO Max. As of May 23, HBO Max will be renamed just plain “Max,” without the “HBO.” The new Max site’s URL is now live, currently as a landing page.

As far as I can tell, Max will still carry the same content from its HBO Max incarnation, including current and back catalog material from HBO, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, the Warner film catalog, Looney Tunes, and so on. Max will also carry the Discovery+ library of reality shows, as long promised, though Discovery+ will still be available as a stand-alone (and cheaper) separate service. The new Max app will also have a revamped interface, including improved parental controls/kids’ section features.

One major change for Max is a new pricing tier, that seems to mimic Netflix’s:

  • Max Ad-Lite: $10/month or $100/year. The current ad-based tier; its new name seems to be trying to downplay the fact it has ads?
  • Max Ad Free: $16/month or $150/year. The current default tier.
  • Max Ultimate Ad Free: $20/month or $200/year. Along with more concurrent streams, this new tier also offers 4K programming, versus 1080p for the two cheaper tiers.

As for programming, WB Discovery announced a few new TV shows for Max:

  • An animated prequel series based on the “Gremlins” movies.
  • Another spin-off of “The Big Bang Theory.”
  • A series starring Batman villain the Penguin, spun off from the movie “The Batman.”
  • A spin-off of “The Conjuring” films.
  • Another “Game of Thrones” spin-off.
  • A “decade-long” “Harry Potter” TV show. Unlike the “Fantastic Beats” films, this TV show will be based on the original books, and will basically be an expanded retelling of the books/films.

My thoughts: Max looks like HBO Max, but with a harder-to-Google name

Max landing page pre-launch
Max landing page pre-launch. (Warner Bros. / screenshot by author)

My first reaction to the Max news was thinking of a line from the movie “Muppets Most Wanted”’s opening song: “we’re doing a sequel… it’s more of the same.” Other than the rebranding, new $20 tier, and folding in the Discovery reality shows, Max sounds pretty much the same as its HBO Max predecessor.

There’s one major flaw with “Max” as a name: it’s hard to pull up in Google, or mention without clarifying that it’s a streaming service. Versus being mistaken for any of the following: Montana Max (from “Tiny Toon Adventures”), a 2015 film called “Max,” the “Mad Max” film series, or the still-exists-for-some-reason HBO sister movie channel, Cinemax. (All of these are Warner-owned properties, by the way.)

Searching in Google pulled up a few mentions of the name switch, but “Max” by itself usually turns up random items named Max. I suspect until or unless search engine optimization/site traffic gives Max-the-streaming-service a boost, most people will still type “HBO Max” into Google by default.

One reason cited for the name change: parents are supposedly turned off by the mention of “HBO” in “HBO Max,” due to HBO’s edgy, adult entertainment reputation. Warner also states they hope to make Max more of a direct competitor with catch-all services like Netflix; thus the attention to the Discovery material and children’s programming. However, Warner Bros. Discovery’s recent heavy purging of its animated content leaves me skeptical that things will be much different going forward. (Will Max have the entire Looney Tunes catalog, or still be missing every classic short post-1950?) Ironically, HBO Max was heading toward being a “catch-all” Netflix-replacement in my opinion, before the cost-cutting and increased emphasis on reality shows began.

I gather renaming HBO Max a variant of “Warner” (“Warner Plus,” “Warner Max,” etc.) wasn’t considered. Despite the studio celebrating its 100th birthday this year, I half-suspect the current Warner owners don’t want the Discovery side overshadowed by the Warner side.

Who is Max for?

LGBTQ content on HBO Max
HBO Max. (Warner Bros. / screenshot by author)

Like HBO Max, I assume Max will be ideal for:

  • HBO programming fans.
  • DC Comics fans.
  • Fans of a specific Warner-owned franchise.
  • Those that already get HBO on cable (and thus free access).
  • Warner Brothers movie buffs.
  • Possibly Warner animation fans (with the purging caveats mentioned).
  • Discovery fans who also want HBO/Warner scripted programming.

Basically, the same target audience as the current HBO Max service. Otherwise, if you don’t fall under any of the above, you’re probably better off just sticking with “catch-all” services like Netflix, Prime Video, and/or the Disney+ bundle (with Hulu).

If you mainly want Warner’s reality shows, you should stick with Discovery+, which is a lot cheaper than Max. Discovery+ runs $5/month for the ad-based tier, or $7/month for the ad-free tier.

Some of WB Discovery’s catalog, largely the reality shows, has also been released to free ad-supported streaming services, specifically the Roku Channel and Tubi.

Warner animation fans might still want Max for the newest shows like the “Gremlins” series. Otherwise, they might be better served just sticking with buying/renting DVDs/Blu-rays and using cheaper services like Hulu (which has recent Cartoon Network/Adult Swim shows like “Rick and Morty,” “OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes,” and “Craig of the Creek”) or Boomerang (the Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera library). I note Hulu and Boomerang carry shows that Warner purged from HBO Max (and I suspect, will still stay purged from Max), like “OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes” and the post-1950 Looney Tunes shorts.


HBO Max on tablet
Photo by Marco Verch (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)

Overall, I don’t see the switch to Max massively increasing the service’s popularity; much of it sounds the same as the current HBO Max service. Adding “90 Day Fiance” isn’t going to lure in people who weren’t already fans of Max, and reality show fans can get Discovery+ for a lot cheaper.

There’s also no indication if Warner’s purging practices will change any with Max. While Warner’s executives mention wanting to attract an all-ages audience, the treatment of their animation catalog has left me skeptical.

Deciding to double down on “Harry Potter” as a franchise also feels problematic, given series creator JK Rowling’s transphobic views and strong ties to the upcoming TV series.

That said, aside from halting the tax write-off antics, WB Discovery might want to focus on increasing Max’s presence outside of the United States, if they want to increase subscribers. While HBO Max is reasonably popular in the US, I suspect most people who want HBO/HBO Max already have it. According to FlixPatrol, HBO Max ranks #4 in the US, just behind Hulu, with Prime Video and Netflix at #1 and #2. HBO Max also ranks fourth among non-China-based services globally, with Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+ in the top three spots.

HBO Max also is mostly just in the US, Mexico, Central/South America, and a few parts of Europe, with the rest of the world getting HBO/Max programming through third parties. (For example, Canada’s Crave streaming service carries much of the HBO Max catalog.) Given rival Netflix’s global presence, Warner might want to instead offer Max directly as a service in these countries.

Image: Montana Max, “Tiny Toon Adventures”; the Cinemax logo; the Max logo; and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” (Warner Bros.)


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Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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