In Final Act Of Mindless Megadeal Stupidity, Warner Bros. Discovery Execs Kill The HBO Brand

from the dealmaking-for-dealmaking's-sake dept

The AT&T Time Warner and DirecTV mergers were a monumental disasters. AT&T spent $200 billion to acquire both companies thinking it would dominate the video and internet ad space. Instead, the company lost 9 million subscribers in nine years, fired 50,000 employees, closed numerous popular brands (including Mad Magazine), and stumbled around incompetently for several years before giving up.

But that was just the start.

After its tactical retreat, AT&T spun off Time Warner into an entirely new company, Warner Media. Warner Media then immediately turned around and announced a blockbuster merger with Discovery, creating the creatively named Warner Brothers Discovery.

This new company has been a blistering mess as well. Executives there have been so cheap they’ve refused to pay residuals to creators, shuttered numerous popular programs they didn’t want to pay for, and engaged in round after round of additional layoffs to achieve promised “synergies.”

Throughout this whole mess, executives at the new media giant struggled to properly name what they had “created.” AT&T embraced so many different names for its streaming efforts, it even confused the company’s own employees. Three-plus years later and executives at Warner Brothers Discovery still can’t figure out what to name the effort, and are now keen on killing the only brand that means anything to its users:

Warner Bros. Discovery is pushing forward with a plan to drop “HBO” from the name of its flagship streaming service HBO Max.

That decision for the long-planned rebranding of the combined HBO Max and Discovery+ services was partially informed by the company’s belief that “the HBO name turns off many potential subscribers,” Bloomberg reported on Thursday and TheWrap independently confirmed.

Throughout this experiment, the executive brain trust have seemed keen on degrading the quality proposition of their streaming service, removing or burying much of HBO’s legacy content in menus while prioritizing garbage reality TV programming like “F-Boy Island.” At the same time, they’ve been keen to raise rates as quickly as possible to achieve hallucinated synergies of the deal.

Years later and not only are executives still debating what to call this hot mess, they continue to indicate they have no understanding of consistent branding, or that the HBO brand generally represented quality in a sea of homogenous crap.

All told, this series of pointless mergers only really illustrates the media industry’s mindless “growth for growth’s sake” mindset, in which multi-billion-dollar deals are made for no other reason than to reduce taxes, boost executive compensation, and delude wealthy media executives into believing they’re savvy deal makers. All while employees and customers alike get the very short end of the stick, and the end product winds up being decidedly worse than when these purportedly savvy dealmakers started.

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Companies: at&t, discovery, hbo, warner bros., warner bros. discovery

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Comments on “In Final Act Of Mindless Megadeal Stupidity, Warner Bros. Discovery Execs Kill The HBO Brand”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As someone who practically lived on Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel as a kid and pre-teen, it pains me to say this but the Discovery brand is the one that turns me off as a subscriber. I thought about adding an HBO subscription before the merger but after it was done I don’t think I would be able to hold down the vomit if I paid for anything related to the dreck that Discovery has become over the last 20 years.

Anathema Device (profile) says:


We don’t watch commercial TV at all now. The only subscription I have is to YouTube Premium (to avoid the ads), and we happily watch hours and hours of high quality documentaries every night.

I’ve tried Prime, I actually have a 3 month free sub to Apple Tv which is still current, and in the end, we just keep coming back to Youtube. The other services have a couple of decent series and the rest is boring drivel.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

They’re…not killing the HBO brand, though. HBO is still going to be called HBO.

They’re changing the name of HBO Max. They’re evidently changing it to just “Max”, which is dumb, but that doesn’t mean changing its name is a bad idea in itself.

HBO is a recognizable brand, but the problem is HBO Max has expanded to include a lot of content that’s not from HBO and typically isn’t associated with HBO. When people hear HBO they may think of all sorts of things, from Game of Thrones to John Oliver to standup specials to Arli$$ to Beastmaster, but most people don’t think of Looney Tunes or Scooby-Doo or the DC superheroes or Rick and Morty.

Branding WB’s streaming service with the HBO name made sense when it was mostly HBO content. But it’s expanded significantly to include a whole lot more content that has nothing to do with HBO. A name change makes sense, in much the same way that CBS All Access became Paramount+.

It’s just that this particular name change is baffling. Something with “Warner” or “WB” in the name would make a whole lot more sense.

T.L. (profile) says:


Yes. Honestly, they should have called it “WB Max” when AT&T/WarnerMedia launched it. Ironically, WarnerMedia executives thought the HBO brand had more prestige value with consumers than the Warner Bros. brand, which is why they chose to call it “HBO Max” in the first place. In fact, former WarnerMedia CCO Kevin Reilly justified not calling the service “WB Max” saying, “You don’t go to ‘Warners Land’ for vacation.” (Reilly kinda ignored the fact that the company used to own The WB for eleven years here in the States, and owns/has owned cable networks under the Warner TV brand in Latin America, France and Southeast Asia.)

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CyberKender says:

So people are turned off by the name HBO?

The network that put forth Game of Thrones? The Sopranos? Curb Your Enthusiasm? The Wire? Sex and The City? Deadwood?

And they think that the cable channel full shows like Naked and Afraid XL, Moonshiners, and Sewer Divers has better brand recognition??

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: yeah

Some people don’t want TV to challenge them or make them think. They just want to zone out in front of their big screen TV. HBO content is too much for them, they don’t want it.

Hey I don’t understand a lot of what people like. Why do people use social media? Why do they tolerate watching ads when a few bucks will make them go away? Why do they buy gas guzzlers when they know oil prices are going in only one direction long term? Why do they vote for obvious conmen like Trump and DeSantis? This is another weird thing like all that. People are just inexplicable.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

HBO Max already has some mindless content because it’s not all HBO type content. But people are confused, they think a thing called “HBO Max” means it’s going to be content they have to pay attention to, that’s for coastal elites, and all the other baggage that comes with the HBO name. So they don’t subscribe when they might if it had another name.

Choosing a name is marketing, it doesn’t determine the content. It’s the other way around. The name should communicate the content and “HBO Max” doesn’t do that well.

But I also don’t think changing the name will be any kind of panacea. The platform is still expensive compared with competitors and has a reputation for being unreliable, which I can attest. Stupid thing freezes up. Still! How many years have they had to fix it?

Anonymous Coward says:

that the HBO brand generally represented quality

It’s also long been associated with being expensive:

  • It is our great pleasure to provide you with unlimited entertainment on your intergalactic journey. On this cable system we receive over one million channels from the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
  • Do you get HBO?
  • No. That would cost extra.
    (Simpsons 7F04 “Treehouse of Horror”, 1990)

Well, maybe perceptions have changed in the 32 years since, but I would hope the people in charge of the company know better than I.

T.L. (profile) says:


The “HBO” brand has had the opposite effect for me, having grown up watching occasional free preview weekends my local Cox Communications system ran, and learning about the history of the network and how it shaped the development of cable.

I’ve subscribed to the linear HBO service in some capacity on streaming since 2020, when Apple TV Channels used to sell it; then moved to the Hulu add-on when Apple discontinued it for grandfathered subscribers in August 2021, and since last September, after finding out it started selling its premium add-ons without requiring a subscription to the base channel package, switched to getting it through YouTube TV. Mostly, it’s just to watch movies and a few originals like “Last Week Tonight”.

nerdrage (profile) says:

might be justified

When AT&T used HBO to slap on any old crap like Scooby Doo, I cringed. I knew it was a mistake. HBO has a particular meaning: exclusive, not for everyone. So yes, some people will be turned off just as I’m turned off by Discovery crap shows.

If the overall app is Max and HBO is a section inside the app, with some guarantee of quality that doesn’t exist elsewhere like in the Discovery section, that works for me. Everyone will know where to look for their shows and what not to bother with.

PaulT (profile) says:


I’d rather watch something else. Which is where the complaint was coming from – not that that sort of crap exists, but that they keep trying to sell it to people who would never watch it, sincere or otherwise.

That seems to be one of the biggest problems across the industry, anyway. Whether it’s HBO, Netflix, Amazon, whatever, they all seem to be focussed on promoting the new shiny thing to people who have no interest in it, while making it more difficult for people to discover what actually interests them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, what if you’re not searching for something specifically? That’s a big part of the problem. It’s one thing to be looking for something and using another site to find out which service it’s on. It’s quite another if you’re looking for ideas and the service you pay for doesn’t know.

I actually had this recently. I wanted to watch an old 60s British horror movie I’d heard mentioned on a podcast and I saw it was on Netflix. When it finished, the suggestions for “similar” were nonsense in context (new productions, some in different genres). But, I knew from browsing the production on JustWatch that there was a perfect followup also on Netflix. If I had depended on Netflix alone, I wouldn’t have known either title was on there.

I believe that’s why there’s such a disconnect on there. People complain all the time about there being “nothing” worth watching on Netflix, I literally don’t have enough time to watch everything. But, I use Letterboxd and JustWatch to browse, not Netflix itself…

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c1ue says:

Agree to disagree

Perhaps I am misreading the article, but the complaint here is not that the HBO channel is becoming the channel but that the parent company’s streaming service is no longer going to be called HBO Max.
Why is this a problem – especially if the intent is to stream all of the org’s content as opposed to just HBO’s?
Nor is the author’s lack of analysis of the business reasons behind the original merger and the ensuing spinoff helpful to the article’s thesis.
The purpose of the merger was monopolistic – cable is already highly concentrated and buying up even a 3rd tier competitor only helps the bottom line.
The subsequent spinoff – was it because of anti-monopoly concerns and/or a condition of the original merger? Was it because the new org wanted to bask in its newly consolidated monopoly cable position and dump the headache of content? With the ensuing content acquisition yet another replay of the monopolist playbook?
If this poorly researched, thin background rant is what Techdirt offers, count me out.

nerdrage (profile) says:


Well this article is below TechDirt’s usual standards.

When AT&T named its platform HBO Max, I knew it was a mistake. Then they sent me a brochure touting their new HBO Max platform and highlighting Scooby Doo and Looney Tunes.

I’m not joking. If I didn’t know about the whole mess beforehand, I would have suspected that Netflix was trolling them with this brochure mailing as a joke. One of the most idiotic pieces of marketing I’ve ever seen.

Now Zaslav is trying to undo that mistake years after the fact.

And the reason AT&T sold Warners was because they botched HBO Max so badly that they were eager to get rid of it. The bad name and bad marketing were just two mistakes of many. The Shark Week guy wanted to get his hands on some high class assets, so he signed on the dotted line, a move he might regret now. Even he’s admitted that the mess was worse than he suspected but he’s stuck with it now.

LostInLoDOS (profile) says:

What’s in a name?

For many HBO could be the Sopranos and the like. For others like myself it’s the never bend station that gave us Carlin and the 7 Dirty Words.
But there is a definite stigma that comes with the brand too:
Real Sex, partners, Honey (Fanny Hill) etc.

Now for free choice viewers and fans of film, that’s a good thing to be proud of.
But it does hold a stigma.

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