Why Does Everyone Care So Much About the HBO Max Chaos?

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On August 3, the internet worked itself into a tizzy when it seemed like HBO Max—the streaming arm of premium cable network HBO—was under attack. Rumors swirled that the relatively nascent streaming platform was about to get a serious overhaul due to fallout from the merger of its parent company, Warner Bros., with Discovery. 

First, HBO Max originals like the Seth Rogen–led An American Pickle and the Anne Hathaway–fronted remake of The Witches quietly disappeared from the platform soon after HBO Max announced it was scrapping two upcoming original films—the $90 million Batgirl and the animated family film Scoob!: Holiday Haunt—even though both were nearly finished. Then, The Wrap reported that there was speculation that HBO Max was laying off 70% of its employees. For a moment there, things were looking exceedingly bleak for HBO Max’s legion of fans, sometimes referred to as HBO Maxxinistas.

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It turned out all the hoopla was (mostly) for naught. As of August 15, only roughly 70 people—not 70% of the company—were lost at HBO Max, amounting to about 14% of the workforce. In a sometimes unintentionally funny earnings call, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav reassured listeners that HBO Max was not being destroyed, but would be “the centerpiece” of a new streaming platform that would see it combined with Discovery+ by next summer. The Maxxinistas could breathe a sigh of relief and live to fight another day.

Why, though, does HBO Max’s uncertain future seem to matter so much to so many people? In short, because it’s become one of the only streaming platforms to distinguish itself in recent years. Despite launching only two years ago, in May of 2020, HBO Max almost immediately created real brand loyalty—in a fraction of the time it took for streaming competitors like Netflix and Hulu. This is, in part, due to its adjacency to premium cable channel HBO, which consistently delivers some of the most lauded and watched television shows around, including The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Euphoria, and Succession. (It also helps that all HBO titles are available to be streamed on HBO Max.)

But HBO Max also became an entity in its own right, and has been responsible for some of the freshest titles in streaming. Take a look at its Emmy-nominated slate: The Staircase, Station Eleven, The Flight Attendant, and Hacks, which won three Emmys last fall for outstanding writing, outstanding directing, and outstanding lead actress for Jean Smart. In just a few years, HBO Max has solidified itself as an awards player and helped usher in the Jean Smartaissance—two equally important feats.    




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Chris Murphy

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