June 6, 2023

Why did HBO Max rebrand to Max? 4 insights

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On May 23, HBO Max rebranded to Max – just Max – and changed its signature purple logo to a less-distinctive blue. 

They also rolled out a new tagline – “The one to watch for HBO” – and merged HBO Max’s content with shows from Discovery, which owns brands like HGTV and Food Network. 

Pretty much everyone on the internet reacted the same way to the news: Why? 

HBO has been one of the most prestigious brands in television for a long time. In 2017, they beat out Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu for quality of original programming, number of shows, and quality of movies. In 2022, they had the most award-winning content of any streaming service in the U.S. They’re synonymous with critical darlings like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Succession. 

And when AT&T acquired TimeWarner in 2018, the company intentionally built its streaming service around HBO, with then-chief content officer Kevin Reilly saying HBO “stood for a lot of things that were positive.”

So why did Warner Bros. Discovery drop the prestigious “HBO” from the HBO Max name in 2023, and put Succession on the same platform as Dr. Pimple Popper? Here’s what we found. 

1. The brand may be powerful, but HBO Max has high churn rates and shallow usage. 

You’d never know it from the hubbub around The White Lotus, but HBO Max accounts for only 1.3% of all television watching in the U.S, compared to 7.3% for Netflix.

Discovery+ churn rates are far lower than HBO Max’s, and though HBO Max has a huge catalog of content, users don’t watch most of it. Warner Bros. Discovery said 75% of HBO Max’s viewing comes from the home screen. 

Warner Bros. Discovery seems to think that by combining Max content with Discovery content, the streamer will have lower churn rates, and CEO David Zaslav said “driving down that churn may be more important than driving the growth.”

2. The HBO brand appeals to an adult, male demographic when Warner Bros. Discovery has broader ambitions.

Warner Bros. Discovery has massive global ambitions, and they think HBO’s brand – though strong within its target demographic – is too limiting to compete with Netflix and Disney. 

“We all love HBO. And it's a brand that has been built over five decades to be the edgy, groundbreaking trendsetter in entertainment for adults. But it's not exactly where parents would most eagerly drop off their kids.” - JB Perrette, president and CEO of Warner Bros.

In other words, when parents look for something to put on instead of Cocomelon (Netflix) or Bluey (Disney), WBD feels they’re unlikely to reach for an app that says HBO. 

HBO may be limiting in terms of gender as well. In WBD’s 2022 earnings report, the company said HBO had a “male skew” with a focus on scripted content, while Discovery+ had a “female skew” with unscripted content. 

3. Warner Bros. Discovery wants to signal a depth of content to compete with Netflix and Disney. 

To compete with Netflix and Disney – Zaslav’s stated goal – WBD has said that the company needed to widen its tent. 

Patrizio Spagnoletto, WBD global chief marketing officer of streaming, said, “By moving to Max, we wanted to clearly signal a change in the broadening and the breadth of the content, though the quality stays the same.” 

Instead of being a platform dedicated to prestigious television, Max will be a platform where you can watch 90-Day Fiance, children’s programming, and The Wire. In the next month, Max users will have access to new non-HBO programming like Guy’s Ranch Kitchen (Food Network), Otter Dynasty (Animal Planet), Motel Rescue (Magnolia Network), and many other more accessible programs than the traditional HBO fare. 

4. Executives love to make their mark. 

How do you know if there’s a new executive in the house? They order a rebrand. 

David Zaslav became CEO of the newly-merged Warner Bros. Discovery in 2022, and he may be trying to put his mark on the company by merging its streaming services – especially as he lacks experience as a traditional Hollywood executive.

Zaslav’s intention, in combining HBO Max and Discovery’s content, is to compete with Netflix and Disney and become “one of the top streaming companies in the world.” 

We’ll see how it goes.


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Greg Shove
Section Staff