Beyond stopping projects from hitting the service, HBO Max has steadily been removing older titles altogether.
While the streaming service HBO Max has certainly been having a rocky few years, its new ownership under the merged Warner Brothers-Discovery company has brought forward drastic changes to the programming library. In an attempt to cut costs on projects deemed unsuitable for the brand, the new CEO David Zaslav has led HBO Max to cancel many upcoming shows and films that were close to, or even in the middle of production. The two most notable examples were the DC television film Batgirl and the animated sequel Scoob!: Holiday Haunt, two completed movies that had their releases entirely canceled.
Beyond stopping projects from hitting the service, HBO Max has steadily been removing older titles from the service altogether. Among the shows removed from the service are the Martin Scorsese-produced historical series Vinyl, the Domhnall Gleeson comedy show Run, this year’s reboot of The Time Traveler’s Wife, and most notably Westworld, a show once thought to be HBO’s heir apparent to Game of Thrones. While at least some older HBO titles were given a physical release or made available for purchase or rental on VOD services, some of the HBO Max originals were only available on the network.
These abrupt removals have unsurprisingly raised red flags to any creators interested in working with HBO Max; why should an artist invest their time and passion into a project that could be removed overnight? While it was initially unclear where these scrubbed movies and shows would be going following their removal, HBO Max revealed in a statement that they would be sold to free ad-supported television outlets, also known as “FASTs.”
Ad-supported streaming services have been steadily rising in popularity as households continue to add streaming subscriptions. Having multiple expensive subscriptions per month can rival the costs of traditional cable, and some people don’t mind watching through ad breaks in order to watch a title that they are interested in. HBO Max has even begun introducing an ad-supported tier to its service, a model that Netflix has also adopted. However, it appears that HBO Max wants to cut ties with these canceled shows altogether, and selling them outright might be a way to recoup their initial investment.
While Warner Brothers Discovery announced in its statement that it will introduce its own FAST channel in 2023, it also has the opportunity to negotiate deals with other services. Many other major conglomerates own both a traditional service and a FAST network. Amazon utilizes both Prime Video and Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), ViacomCBS has both Paramount+ and Pluto TV, the Fox Corporations has both its news channel and the FAST outlet Tubi, and some services, like NBCUniversal’s Peacock, utilize a tiered structure that includes both free and premium tiers.
Some of these outlets utilize their FAST streaming arms to either launch additional original content or promote their larger brands. Freevee has debuted popular shows like this year’s High School and the Anthony Horowitz adaptation Alex Rider, Tubi has debuted original films including the Bruce Willis science fiction film Corrective Measures, and this year The Roku Channel debuted the critically acclaimed musical comedy Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which won the People's Choice Award for Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Peacock allows viewers to preview the original shows on its premium tiers by offering a few episodes on the free level, and Pluto TV will occasionally air pilots or premieres of shows from Paramount+ or Discovery. There’s also instances of creative cross-promotion; while the Paramount+ original Star Trek shows aren’t available elsewhere, Pluto TV will frequently air older Star Trek shows and movies.
HBO Max has indicated that Westworld, The Nevers, Raised by Wolves, FBOY Island, Finding Magic Mike, Head of the Class, and The Time Traveler’s Wife are all up for sale to other FAST networks, and Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy even stated that they were “excited to have the opportunity to welcome a whole new audience to our show.” Unfortunately, since Warner Brothers Discovery owns the intellectual property for shows like Westworld, it means that they will not be up for renewal if they’re purchased by a third-party platform.
However, some of the canceled shows that were produced by outside studios have the possibility to be picked up by other services and renewed for subsequent seasons. Shows like Gordita Chronicles, Love Life, Made for Love, The Garcias, and Minx may have a second life if they find a new home; the cancelation of Minx, in particular, was surprising considering the positive word-of-mouth that the series generated, and HBO Max had already renewed it for a second season before abruptly changing its plans. However, the series’ producing company Lionsgate released a statement that indicated they were actively looking for a new distributor so that the series could continue.
Unquestionably, HBO Max will look very different within the next year; under Zaslav’s leadership, the company is looking to retain the integrity of the theatrical experience and not distribute potentially profitable films on the service like it did in 2021. It’s unlikely that highly anticipated films like Barbie, Dune: Part Two, The Flash, and Shazam!: Fury of the Gods will debut on HBO Max only a couple of months after they leave theaters in the same way that Warner Brothers films like The Batman, Don’t Worry Darling, and Black Adam did. There’s also the upcoming hybrid service that will combine HBO Max with Discovery+, so it's possible that a FAST tier could include some of these older shows.
Thankfully, there are other ways to watch some of the content that was removed; some of HBO Max’s original movies like An American Pickle and Charm City Kings can be purchased or rented on VOD platforms like Vudu Fandango or iTunes. However, part of their appeal was that they were produced directly for a service that abandoned them. It’s simply unfair to creators who had signed a deal to have their project on a certain network; while Netflix has certainly made some abrupt cancelations, the shows they didn’t move forward with aren’t off the service completely.
It’s unfortunate that filmmakers and their casts and crews are so often the pawns of studio politics that put more emphasis on their bottom line than artistic integrity. Hopefully, discussions will continue to be raised about the rights of artists to own their work, and the possibility to find another venture if their original distributor abandons them.
Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes short films and stage plays. He lives in McKinney, TX.