Warner Bros. Discovery on Wednesday unveiled plans – including the official “Max” name – for its forthcoming streaming service that combines Discovery+ and HBO Max into a broad new product, which is set to launch May 23 and aims to offer something for everyone.
With Max, WBD CEO David Zaslav indicated the company hopes to fit the needs for everyone in the family, with the exec zeroing in on the breadth of content that will be available on the new service, which he said it wants to distribute to the largest audience possible – along with a new tagline “The one to watch” and blue branding color.
“It’s the one to watch because it’s the place every member of the household can go to see exactly what they want at any given time, from House of the Dragon and Succession, to Property Brothers and Barefoot Contessa, from the Joker and Aquaman, to Million Dollar Baby and Elvis,” Zaslav commented, among other titles.
“We are not pickers, we are content makers,” he continued.
During the event WBD executives teased a wide variety of new content teed up for the platform, pricing, product improvements and more.
Interestingly, WBD is not raising prices for the streaming service, keeping them on par with what HBO Max costs today. At launch Max will have three plan options: an ad-lite plan, still at the $9.99 price point HBO Max is today; ad-free at the current $15.99 per month for HD quality, two concurrent streams and 30 downloads; as well as a third, newly-introduced premium tier – dubbed Ultimate - priced at $19.99 per month for 4K HDR quality, four concurrent streams and 100 downloads.
According to JB Perrette, CEO and president of global streaming and games, at launch on May 23, the current HBO Max app will automatically update to the new Max app for many users, while another segment of viewers will be prompted to download the new app and can start watching again with two clicks. All HBO Max usernames and passwords will carry over, along with profiles, watch history and billing that he said will transition seamlessly.
Notably, execs also confirmed earlier reports, that even with the launch of Max, Discovery+ will remain a standalone alone product with no changes to prices or content. Perrette noted that Discovery+ is a profitable streaming service with a sizable user base and the company does not want to leave any profitable subscribers behind.
Something for everyone
While Discovery+ and HBO Max each delivered something to some people, Perrette said the new product will have “a broad array of quality choices for everybody.”
Some in the industry have questioned whether audiences of Discovery+ and HBO Max will be interested in a cross-pollinated platform. Zaslav said that HBO Max has one-of-a-kind storytelling that drives subscriber acquisition while comfort viewing on Discovery+ with its library of unscripted content drives customer retention.
“Holding subs is as important as adding subs, and together they pack a really powerful one-two punch,” Zaslav said.
In addition to HBO, WBD has an arsenal of assets including brands such as Food Network, HGTV, Discovery, TNT, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Television, DC Studios, CNN, just to name a few.
Zaslav also suggested the company plans to incorporate live sports and news down the line, saying WBD will come back in a few months with details on how it plans to use its differentiated live content assets to grow its streaming business further.
In explaining Max’s comprehensive SVOD offering, Perrette said that WBD is aiming to address several consumer pain points of the adolescent streaming industry including too many services, too much content, difficulty with content discovery, and the increasing cost of needing several streaming services to meet all entertainment needs.
Perrette noted it wants to simplify and improve the user experience – with a focus on quality over quantity a key driver of wanting to bring the two services together.
“In this sea of streaming services, our potent combination of great value, strong user experience, superior quality with iconic franchises, unrivaled breadth, this is what makes us unique,” Perrette said.
And while he acknowledged that HBO Max isn’t where parents think to turn for kids programming, it aims to be welcoming to all, particularly kids and families with animated series, films and well-known brands. Perrette said the kids and family category hasn’t met its true potential on HBO Max and is an area WBD sees as “a meaningful new engagement opportunity.”
Max Originals are also poised to join the service, including from the DC Universe, as well as a new unscripted series from the “Fixer Upper” franchise from Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network – the latter which will be featured prominently on the new platform. WBD also announced a new prequel installment in the wildly popular Game of Thrones franchise, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight” and plans to introduce a live action TV series based on the Harry Potter book franchise to run over the next decade.
WBD also plans to leverage its broad IP to cross promote and create new complementary content. For example, Kathleen Finch discussed an HGTV-focused unscripted series featuring a number of personalities building a real-life version of Mattel’s Barbie Dreamhouse – timed to debut this summer, when the “Barbie” film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling will also be released.
And although there’s a new name, Casey Bloys, CEO of HBO and HBO Max content, said “HBO has not and is not changing course at all,” with plans to keep premium content prominently within the app, without having to carry the entire platform.
With the Max service, WBD is also introducing a variety of product improvements as Perrette noted each HBO Max and Discovery+ had their own shortcomings. The improvements focus on four key areas of increased engagement, enhanced retention, strengthen performance and optimizing monetization.
To increase engagement, Max will lean on learnings from Discovery+, where users are finding and watching significantly more content than on HBO Max as the latter made it difficult for users to navigate the depth of its library. To that end, Perrette said Max will feature large hero images, a new navigation menu, genre hubs, shortcuts to quickly save content to watch later, and personalized recommendations within the app and on title cards that suggest what to watch after a movie or show has ended. He said WBD significantly increased investment and is focused on delivering a human plus machine learning approach to better serve content.
As for involuntary churn, it’s improving on limited capabilities that HBO Max currently has, to proactively manage churn, such as by sending failed payment alerts and in-app message on connected TV, as well as support for new payment methods including Paypal.
For strengthen performance, Perrette pointed to a simplified connected TV sign on process, a rebuilt download feature, and faster app and video start times. He also said Max will have “One of the lightest ad loads in streaming,” with more details expected at the company’s Upfront in May.