Fans recently got some insight into why HBO Max has canceled and abandoned so many streaming programs in recent years.
Warner Bros. (WB) is in the middle of some major managerial changes, as it continues to work through its merger with Discovery, leading to some new strategies when it comes to production and releases for certain programs.
Most recently, this has been seen in the nearly complete overhaul of the DC Universe (DCU) with James Gunn and Peter Safran joining the company, but this also means that a number of movies and TV shows have been canceled in the process.
One of the biggest cancellations came with 2022's Batgirl, which was completely scrapped ahead of its HBO Max release for a tax writeoff even though it was close to being completed. On top of that, multiple animated programs were removed from the service, and plans for movies featuring characters like Zatanna and Constantine were also removed from the production slate before they got to debut on the streaming platform.
While the most public cancelations are coming from the DC Universe, a number of other high-profile HBO & HBO Max original projects are either being canceled completely or moved to other locations. This includes titles like the Emmy-Award-winning Westworld, The Nevers, The Time Traveler's Wife, Made For Love, and Finding Magic Mike; it's still unclear which of them will continue on other platforms or be shelved for good.
Now, as all of these adjustments come in rapid-fire fashion, one of HBO Max's higher-ups has taken a deep dive into why this is all happening this way.
Why Is HBO Max Dropping So Many Shows?
Speaking with multiple outlets, Warner Bros. Discovery CFO and HBO Max financial overseer Gunnar Weidenfels explained why a number of original shows and movies were canceled or abandoned and why old content was removed from HBO Max while speaking at Citi’s 2023 Communications, Media & Entertainment Conference on January 5.
Calling this year "a year of relaunching and building," Weidenfels, via The Hollywood Reporter (THR), explained that WB actually hopes to be a trendsetter with moves like this, feeling that other companies are likely to do the same for their work in the future.
As for the content that was canceled and dropped, he described it as "a reflection of an industry that went overboard" and explained WB "rectified a lot of that content exuberance, as [he] would call it."
This was done in order to make sure that the company does "the exact right things" rather than simply pushing out as much content as possible:
"There was a lot of thinking of, you know, let’s do more, more, more, not necessarily ’Let’s do the exact right things, let’s do what works.' We have the the ability, the benefit, to be Monday morning quarterbacks here."
As reported by Variety, Weidenfels shared that WB took the time necessary "to make sure that [they] do it properly," putting their best out in terms of content even if it's taken a while to reach that goal:
"We took a little bit of time to make sure that we do it properly. For some of the titles, we’ve found new homes elsewhere. That’s why this took six or seven months. But I think we’ve come to great solutions and, most importantly, we’re done with that chapter."
On top of that, the big goal for WB is to "leave those initial strategy changes" in the past so that they can move everything forward in 2023 and move off of the foundation that's being built:
"That was very important to all of us, to really use 2022 to leave the purchase accounting behind us, leave those initial strategy changes behind us, get it all out there in terms of our restructuring estimates and then be able to turn the page forward. I think the team has laid a great foundation and I’m really excited about the growth from here."
THR reported on the CFO explaining how the company "shaved off a lot of the excess last year," expressing his feelings that he thinks this is something that "everyone else in the industry is going to go through."
Shaving off excess will be a new focus as WB comes out of "an irrational time of overspending," making sure that they get the appropriate return financially:
"We’re coming from an irrational time of overspending with with very limited focus on return on investment, and I think others are going to have to make some adjustments that we frankly have behind us now."
While WB has no intention to stop spending on content, Weidenfels admitted that there will be winners and losers, but that CEO David Zaslav has assembled "a first flight lineup of creative talent" moving forward:
"We have every intention to continue spending, content is the lifeblood of this company. It’s obviously a hit-driven business, you win some you lose some. But if you look at the creative lineup that David [Zaslav] has been able to assemble, this is this is a first flight lineup of creative talent."
Weidenfels also made it clear that the WB's "products are priced way too low," indicating a likely price hike as new content is introduced.
Explaining that bringing so much content together and selling it at such a low price "doesn’t sound like a very smart strategy," he noted that losses were almost guaranteed with not enough customers to keep profits coming in:
"The idea of collapsing seven windows into one and selling it at the lowest possible price doesn’t sound like a very smart strategy. And I think there was this partly capital market-fueled phase of land grabbing, and you couldn’t lose enough money and couldn’t grow subscribers fast enough. I think that’s behind us."
Looking at trends from the past couple of years, he pointed out how other big studios "have started gradually bringing up prices," meaning that WB will have to do the same in order to keep up:
"If you look at trend lines over the past 20 or 36 months, a number of players have started gradually bringing up prices. So I think there’s a building consensus that this phase of dumping pricing is over."
Variety also reported on WB's year of "relaunching and building" with the combined HBO Max/Discovery+ product on the way, as Wiedenfels noted that the studio has put plenty of emphasis on bringing a quality service in that regard "from a consumer-experience perspective:"
"We’re going to come out with a great product from a consumer-experience perspective, and that’s, frankly, the biggest holdback for HBO Max right now. The experience is not where it needs to be."
Will New HBO Max Strategy Work?
With so many cancelations over the past few months from Warner Bros., Weidenfels highlighted how all of these moves were made to ensure that the company has as clean a slate as possible moving into 2023 and beyond.
Part of this is from a financial standpoint, which was seen when WB canceled Batgirl in order to save a decent amount of money via a tax write-off. While many were puzzled by this decision, it appears that the call was made with money in mind so that the company didn't suffer a big loss, on top of the fact that the studio was already looking to rebuild everything with the DC Universe.
But even more so, another endgame for this strategy appears to be making sure that the content WB produces is as good as it can possibly be, leading to franchises being overhauled and reworked in new ways. James Gunn and Peter Safran already have their plans worked out for WB's superhero slate, which will be revealed in the coming weeks, and other franchises will likely go through a similar process in order to get the best results.
While most of the company's plans for this year and later are still being kept under wraps, this should be a new day for Warner Bros. as it tries to rebuild its image and remain competitive in the entertainment world.