By Jennifer Maas
TV Business Writer
Warner Bros. Discovery finally revealed the plans (and confirmed the long-rumored name) for its new streaming service, Max, which will combine offerings from HBO Max and Discovery+ into one product, during a splashy press presentation on the Warner Bros. Studio lot Wednesday.
The event kicked off at 10 a.m. at the iconic Burbank location, presided over by WBD CEO David Zaslav, president and CEO of global streaming and games JB Perrette, HBO and Max CEO and chairman Casey Bloys (who now also has oversight of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network), and U.S. networks group chairman and chief content officer Kathleen Finch.
“Max is the one to watch,” Zaslav said Wednesday, revealing the name and slogan of the merged streamer at the top of the event.
First announced in August 2022 — just a few months after the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery officially closed — the combined product was originally not supposed to roll out until this summer, but in November, WBD moved up the timeline to a spring launch.
Warner Bros. Discovery then spent several months emphasizing how many resources were being devoted to building this new platform from the ground up, with CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels saying at a conference in January that the current HBO Max was a “subpar” offering.
Variety was on the scene at WBD’s Wednesday streaming event to fill you in on all the details about Max, Warner Bros. Discovery’s direct-to-consumer strategy, the future of HBO and the standalone version of Discovery+.
*First up, CEO David Zaslav confirmed the name of the combined service to be Max.
*Zaslav said “in a few months” WBD will reveal plans for “important and differentiated” live sports and news content on Max.
*WBD streaming chief JB Perrette revealed the launch date for Max is May 23.
*Perrette said kids & family content will be a priority for the new streamer: “Warner Bros. Discovery has some of the best known kids’ characters, animation and brands in the industry. Not surprisingly, the category has not met its true potential on HBO Max. We see this as a meaningful new engagement opportunity… Max will better curate our rich history of amazing animation, seminal children’s’ television and blockbusters the whole family can enjoy, as well as new product features that will prioritize and enhance the kids’ user experience.”
*Perrette noted the importance of removing HBO from the HBO Max name: “HBO is not TV, HBO is HBO. It needs to stay that way, which is why we will privilege it in the product experience and also not push it to the breaking point by forcing it to take on the full breadth of this new content proposition, had we kept the name in the service brand. And by doing so, we’ll better elevate and showcase our unparalleled array of other content and brands that will be key to broadening the appeal of this enhanced product.”
*HBO and Max CEO and chairman Casey Bloys kicked off the list of updates on Max original programming with announcements in the DC universe, beginning with the first look at Matt Reeves’ “The Penguin” starring Colin Farrell.
*Bloys announced a new “The Big Bang Theory” series is in the works at Max, as well as a show set in “The Conjuring” universe, “The Devil Made Me Do It.”
*Bloys revealed a first look at Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes’ “SmartLess: On the Road” docuseries based on their podcast, and new Chuck Lorre comedy “How to Be a Bookie.” He also teased upcoming unscripted series featuring Shaun White and Robert Downey Jr.
*Bloys shared a first look at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ latest Magnolia Network project, “Fixer Upper: The Hotel,” on which Variety reported exclusively in a cover story last October.
*Bloys introduced new footage from DC’s upcoming “The Flash” film, which will debut on Max after its theatrical run.
*U.S. networks group chief Kathleen Finch spoke about the importance of WBD’s linear channels to Max, with content coming to the platform after first airing on Food Network, TLC, HGTV, Discovery, ID, TNT, Adult Swim, TBS and more.
*Finch revealed a first look at TLC’s new “90 Day Fiancé” franchise series, “Love & Translation,” and showed a teaser for HGTV’s “Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge,” which Variety first reported on as a priority for the company ahead of the summer release of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie.
*Finch also announced Discovery Channel’s “Survive the Raft” and Investigation Discovery’s “Lost Women of Highway 20.”
*Max and Cartoon Network are making an animated “Peter & the Wolf,” featuring music and narration by Gavin Friday and artwork based on illustrations by Bono.
*Cartoon Network is launching new series “Tiny Toons Looniversity.”
*Long-gestating Max original series “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” set a May 23 premiere date, the same day as the launch of the rebranded Max.
*”HBO has not and is not changing course at all,” Bloys said, in reference to HBO being removed from the streamer’s name, but not from the company’s priorities.
*Bloys unveiled the trailers for “True Detective: Night Country,” the HBO series’ fourth installment, Kate Winslet’s “The Regime,” and Robert Downey Jr. “The Sympathizer.”
*Perrette returned to the stage to give details about the new Max streaming user interface, explaining ways he plans to enhance retention and improve “voluntary” churn. Perrette says that “involuntary” churn — users who don’t intend to unsubscribe, but billing issues cause drops in service — will be better managed through the new Max product.
*Perrette promoted the full suite of ad-supported products that Max will launch with, promising more details at Warner Bros. Discovery’s upfront presentation in May.
*Perrette noted that on May 23, a “large” segment of HBO Max users will be “seamlessly” transitioned to Max when they log into the app. For a small portion of customers, there will be a quick two-part sign in process to migrate over.
*Perrette stated that the price for ad-lite Max will be $9.99 per month and ad-free will be $15.99, the same pricing currently charged for HBO Max. Additionally, Max will offer a third tier, “ultimate” ad-free, for $19.99 a month.
*Perrette reiterated WBD’s plans to rollout the new combined product in the U.S. first, then LatAm territories in fall 2023, followed by Europe in early 2024 and Asia-Pacific in mid 2024, with “new markets” to be tapped come fall 2024.
*Bloys returned to the stage at the end of the presentation to announce a new HBO “Game of Thrones” spinoff series, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight,” and confirm Max’s “faithful” series adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books, featuring an all new cast. Bloys highlighted the fact that Max plans to roll out this new show over the course of 10 years.
*”We’re on a mission to be the one to watch. And as you’ve seen today in Max, we’ve got the goods,” Zaslav concluded the presentation.
*During a Q&A with press following the event, Bloys dodged a question regarding J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans controversy amid Max’s plans for the new Harry Potter series.
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