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This week, HBO Max has undergone a transformation, fading into the shadows only to emerge as Max. However, many are still pondering the reasons behind Warner Bros. Discovery’s decision to make this name change.
After all, HBO has long been a cherished and illustrious brand, synonymous with top-tier original TV programming spanning decades, from classics like “The Sopranos” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to modern hits like “Game of Thrones” and “Succession.” In contrast, Max, as observers have noted, appears to be a rather generic name from a branding perspective. (It’s worth noting that the Twitter handle @Max belongs to Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, and on Instagram, it’s held by hockey star Max Domi, who plays as a forward for the Dallas Stars.)
The decision to remove HBO from HBO Max during the relaunch can be attributed to two fundamental reasons:
- The rebrand signifies a more diverse programming offering: HBO Max was originally introduced as the natural evolution of HBO but always encompassed content beyond the HBO catalog. With the transition to Max, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) has integrated a wide array of nonfiction content from Discovery Communications, substantially expanding the content library to over 35,000 hours. This effectively more than doubles the content selection compared to the original HBO Max. CEO David Zaslav articulated the company’s goal of making Max a platform where every household member can access whatever content they desire at any time. This strategic shift was hinted at in a well-discussed slide from WBD’s Q2 2022 earnings report when they initially unveiled the plan to merge HBO Max and Discovery+. The slide highlighted that HBO Max had a “male skew” with an emphasis on scripted programming, while Discovery+ leaned “female skew” with a focus on unscripted content. Thus, the decision to adopt the new name Max reflects the platform’s evolution into a destination not only for acclaimed shows like “Euphoria” and “Barry” but also for content like “90 Day Fiancé,” “Property Brothers” featuring Jonathan and Drew Scott, and the beloved Shark Week episodes. Despite HBO no longer being part of the service’s name, it maintains a prominent presence on Max, with its dedicated section prominently featured at the top of the home screen alongside categories like “series,” “movies,” and “new & notable.”
- To project a more “family-friendly” image for the primary streaming platform: Warner Bros. Discovery executives believed that the HBO name might have been inhibiting HBO Max’s appeal to households with children. JB Perrette, the Head of Streaming at Warner Bros. Discovery, acknowledged this during the Max launch event in April. He highlighted the extensive legacy of HBO as a brand established over five decades, known for its edgy and groundbreaking entertainment tailored for adults. However, it wasn’t the top choice for parents seeking a suitable platform for their kids. Consequently, the kids’ content category on HBO Max hadn’t fully realized its potential. In the rebranded Max, there is now a dedicated kids’ profile easily accessible on the start screen for all new subscribers. This profile, as a default setting, only provides access to content rated PG and TV-PG or lower, aligning with the family-oriented audience.
Zaslav has also emphasized that Discovery+ experiences significantly lower churn rates compared to HBO Max. As such, the untested hypothesis is that by incorporating Discovery content into Max, the combined streaming service will achieve reduced churn rates, meaning fewer cancellations. This approach aims to engage viewers with a broader range of shows they love to watch, rather than having them subscribe primarily for one season of a trending series or a single blockbuster movie before discontinuing their subscription.
During the Q1 earnings call, Zaslav articulated the idea that lowering churn might hold greater significance than driving growth. He suggested that if they can successfully reduce churn, substantial growth in the streaming service’s user base will naturally follow.
Nevertheless, senior executives engaged in extensive deliberations regarding the name change, as Perrette disclosed. They briefly explored various alternatives that could incorporate “Warner” or “WB” or retain the HBO brand, as he shared with reporters last month. However, they ultimately concluded that such additions were unnecessary. They had “Max,” a concise and impactful name with universal appeal. While it carried the risk of being less distinctive due to its common usage, it also made the brand accessible and easy to remember. In discussions about the service, the shorthand reference was consistently “Max,” with no need even to mention “HBO.” It became synonymous with the platform itself.
Max made its debut in the United States on Tuesday, May 23, with seemingly only minor technical hiccups. Some users, depending on their device platform, needed to manually download and log in to the new Max app. Additionally, Warner Bros. Discovery promptly reversed a decision, which had been made during the ongoing Writers Guild of America’s writers strike, to combine writers and directors in film listings on the new service.
The effectiveness of transforming HBO Max into Max in achieving Warner Bros. Discovery’s objectives of appealing to and retaining a wider subscriber base is yet to be determined.