Sure, ‘Max’ Sounds Stupid, But HBO Max Needed A Reboot
There are a lot of things I think of when I hear the name “Max”. There’s Max Headroom, the AI icon of the 80s that has been on my mind a lot lately. MadMax! Max Payne! Every friend I’ve ever had was named Max (whom I’ve always been jealous of). Even Homer Simpson’s alternate character, maximum energy. But there’s no universe where I associate “Max” with HBO, even though we’ve lived with “HBO Max” for years. “HBO” has always been the dominant part of that name, while “Max” looked like a holdover from its sister network Cinemax.
So I’m sure many viewers will be surprised to learn that HBO Max will be rebranded as “Max” May 23. Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav, who led the $43 billion merger between WB and his former company Discovery, announced the new service at a media event this morning. It’s been a year since Zaslav finalized this merger and announced plans to combine each network’s content. And, given the increasingly unstable world of streaming media, he probably had to act fast. But the rebranding seems like a missed opportunity to align the new service with something people already know and love.
Now, to be clear, Zaslav’s desire to build something new makes sense. HBO Max’s launch in May 2020 was notoriously difficult, so much so that it led to a series of executive dismissals. HBO Max was a blatant attempt to catch up with Disney+, which reaches 10 million subscribers just a day after its debut. But it couldn’t compete with Disney’s seemingly limitless library of content. A month after HBO Max arrived, AT&T (the owner of TimeWarner at the time) said the service only had 4.1 million active users. The company tried to make it more popular by saying it had “roughly” 23.6 million subscribers, but those were mostly existing HBO customers who had never touched the HBO Max app.
As a relatively new frontman at Warner Bros., Zaslav probably wanted to stand out with his own service. (Media executives just can’t help it, remember Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi?) Goodbye HBO Max, hello something that combines HBO’s high-profile content with Discovery’s vast library of unscripted reality shows. At today’s media event, executives from Warner Bros. pointed out that the company wanted to highlight HBO’s world-renowned brand – “HBO is not television, HBO is HBO!” someone boldly proclaimed. But they also hinted that the company didn’t want to overdo it with “HBO” as a concept.
I also bet Zaslav and his team spoke to many advisors and focus groups who made it clear that HBO would never be considered as family-friendly as Disney. A cautious parent might not want to subscribe to an HBO service, even if it was the only way to watch a new Discovery series for kids. As one WB executive pointed out, the company used to see double-digit shares of children’s programming on its many networks, but that has “virtually disappeared” in the age of streaming.
With the Max refresh, Warner Bros. attempts to address many of the underlying issues of HBO Max. The company says it aims to increase engagement (having a ton of new content helps!), improve retention, boost performance, and maximize monetization. A personalized recommendation carousel should help surface content that users may be skipping, and WB says Max will also be able to alert people if their subscription payments fail. These are staple features for any modern subscription service, so it’s shocking to learn that HBO Max couldn’t handle them on its own.
Of course, WB is also trying to “maximize monetization” by increasing the subscription cost for 4K viewers. If you want to see Game Of Thrones or the next Flash movie in 4K, you’ll have to spend an extra $4 for the “ultimate level” of Max. It’s similar to Netflix’s 4K strategy, so it’s not entirely surprising, but it’s still annoying.
Allow me to be really cynical: Max’s name doesn’t really matter. We’re inundated with terrible-named streaming services, like Peacock and Paramount+. It would have been nice to see WB highlight one of its most important properties, but cutting the first half of HBO Max probably makes more sense than trying to promote another ridiculous media name ( Hulu kind of made it work, but Quibi will forever sound silly).
No matter what it’s called, we’ll always be rushing to Max to catch the latest episode of Succession Or The last of us. In this age of streaming networks dumping mountains of content on us, it’s somewhat refreshing to have premium shows airing every week. This gives us time to really absorb major events (like the most recent Succession shocker), and space to anticipate what’s to come. Ultimately, it’s HBO’s superpower, and Zaslav knows it. Combined with Discovery’s onslaught of cheap and addictive content, it might just turn Max into a real competitor to Disney+.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/max-hbo-max-rebrand-analysis-194800553.html?src=rss