Warner Bros. Discovery Is Doing to HBO Max What AT&T Did to DC Universe – CBR – Comic Book Resources

The deluge of bad news for HBO Max originals from Warner Bros. Discovery is reminiscent of how AT&T shuttered DC Universe when they owned WB.
Picture this: A storied Hollywood studio is sold to a new owner. This company has a new streaming service, but the corporate parents who purchased the studio also have one. The new owners effectively shutter one in favor of the other. This may seem like what Warner Bros. Discovery is doing to HBO Max, but it's what former owner AT&T did to the DC Universe streaming app.
Since the Warner Bros. Discovery merger officially finalized, the news out of the new studio conglomerate has been surprising. They canceled Leslie Grace's Batgirl movie, which was close to being finished. They shunted some 200 classic episodes of Sesame Street into oblivion. Other HBO Max projects, including the much-anticipated The Caped Crusader from legendary Batman animator Bruce Timm, also got the axe. Unsurprisingly, despite a promise to heavily invest in HBO Max, the company started laying off personnel at the streaming service. For (not so) longtime fans of DC projects on streaming, this is all very familiar because it's what AT&T did to the nascent DC Universe. Warner Bros. Discovery is doing something very similar to HBO Max in favor of Discovery+.
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Back in 2016, AT&T wanted to get into the entertainment game — specifically the superhero boom — so they announced their intention to buy Warner Bros. However, that process took years. In the meantime, WB began the process to create two streaming services. HBO Max would replace HBO Go, simply a web-based streaming portal for HBO's cable content. DC Universe, on the other hand, would be the online hub for all things DC. What made it unique was that not only did they have movies and television, but also a massive library of comic books. When the service launched in 2017, the comics were the major draw for the around $8-per-month service. It had a repository of old DC shows and movies, from the Burton and Schumacher Batman films to the 1990s TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and even little-known DC adaptations like Human Target.
The AT&T acquisition finalized in 2018, when DC Universe was already live and launching their own original series. There was the TV-MA Titans that introduced itself with a violent trailer where Brendon Thwaites' Robin raised fans' eyebrows when he said, "Forget Batman." (He also didn't say "forget.") The brilliant Swamp Thing, the weird and wonderful Doom Patrol and a joint production with the CW called Stargirl soon followed. Yet when HBO Max was getting ready to launch in 2020, dark clouds loomed over the offices of DC Universe. At first the company line was that both streaming services would remain their own entities. Then just a few months later, layoffs began. WarnerMedia announced that DC Universe would rebrand as DC Universe Infinite, retaining only the comic book library. Everything else would shift over to HBO Max.
Unlike the recent moves by Warner Bros. Discovery, the decision to combine those streaming properties was neither unexpected nor puzzling to industry know-it-alls. It made sense to not have two separate services under the same company essentially competing with each other. And in the years since AT&T decided to unload Warner Bros. like expired cans of cat food, HBO Max made the biggest gains in the Streaming Wars. The decision to put their entire 2021 slate of movies on HBO Max concurrently with theatrical debuts didn't make them many friends in the business — but movies like The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs Kong, and Dune drove lagging subscriptions. As users discovered HBO Max, the perceived consensus was that (at least in terms of interface) it was one of the best services in the game. They also more than doubled their subscriptions from the beginning of 2021 to the most recent fiscal quarter's end. So why is Warner Bros. Discovery seemingly prioritizing Discovery+ — the one streaming service someone's elderly mom told them about — over a proven winner?
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On one hand it makes sense in the same way the AT&T decision did. HBO Max was their baby and DC Universe was the risky venture that struggled to earn enough in monthly subscriptions to justify their originals' high budgets. Discovery bought WarnerMedia, HBO Max and all, so they want to maintain their team over the one they inherited.
Yet it seems shortsighted, especially since it undoes all the goodwill in the marketplace the service garnered despite their controversial decisions in the COVID-lockdown era. HBO Max is known as a prestige service with artful dramas and comedies, while Discovery+ is mostly populated with reality food shows and pseudo-science pablum about Bigfoots and other cryptids.
Warner Bros. Discovery will definitely survive this period of transition, and their eventual combined streaming service (HBO Discovery+?) could truly integrate the best of both services. However, at least from the outside, these moves boggle the minds of both industry insiders and fans of good TV. HBO Max is being treated like another DC Universe, and that doesn't bode well for HBO Max or anyone watching it.
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