Warner Bros. Discovery Is 'Doubling Down' On HBO, But What About HBO Max?

In a Q2 earnings call with Warner Bros. Discovery investors Thursday afternoon, CEO David Zaslav outlined a bold new vision for the conglomerate he was hired to run only four months ago. The biggest news of the day centered on Zaslav's decision to merge HBO Max's subscriber base (reported in January 2022 at 76.8 million) with Discovery+ (which claimed 24 million subscribers at the same Q1 juncture). Today, the company announced that at the end of Q2, HBO Max and Discovery+ had combined for 92.1 million subscribers. 

Do the rudimentary math, and it's obvious which streaming service is more valuable. Tally up the Emmy nominations, or simply watch the shows, and it's also acutely clear which platform is producing the best work. Combined, HBO and HBO Max racked up 140 Emmy nods. That number expands to only 155 if you count Discovery+ shows. But this is "show friends, not show business" as Zaslav tritely observed. Nevertheless, the CEO deviated from his bottom-line philosophy to praise the work of HBO's Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys, and, most importantly, announce that the network's development guru had received a five-year contract extension. Bloys is well-liked by creatives, so this is a legitimately savvy decision.

Quality, quantity or somewhere in between

"Right now HBO Max has never been hotter," Zaslav said in the earnings call. "Quality is what matters. Quality is what Casey and that team is delivering. It's the best team in the business. We're doubling down on that HBO team." Zaslav notably declined to comment on the rumors that WBD is poised to cut 70% of the development team at HBO Max. Instead, he leaned heavily on Bloys' accomplishments, assuring investors that "the majority of people on Casey's team have been locked up." Zaslav notably declined to comment on the size of Bloys' team.

If you're a cable subscriber who finds the world of streaming confusing and frightening, you might be wondering what this means for good ol' HBO as a producer of shows and movies in general. Zaslav did not clear this up. Once he'd concluded his admiring remarks about Bloys, he said this:

"We're now going to put in everything that's on Discovery+, and all that original content, as well as some of the premium content from CNN, and it will be the home of all of that. And, you know ... we will as one company come behind that. And we think that product is going to be superb. And you know, that is what it's about: curation. It's about quality."

Uncut your cable

If it's about quality, flooding HBO Max (or whatever it will be called when it's reconfigured by summer 2023) with, comparatively, Emmy-unfriendly Discovery+ product seems counterintuitive. But that seems to be the plan, which, in tandem with WBD's emphasis on theatrical releases, positions old-school HBO as an old-fashioned outlet. It seems like they want you to resubscribe to HBO proper, where, for a price, you'll get to see the big theatrical releases at home ad-free in a time frame of their choosing. We're still parsing the comments here, but for now, David Zaslav's plan, aside from slashing costs by any means necessary, is clear as mud.