I bet I’ll cancel HBO Max this year (if not early next year), and I’m not exactly happy about it. Yes, while HBO Max is the best streaming service right now, I think there will be a time when I have to say goodbye to the service, albeit temporarily.
Yes, just like Netflix – whose subscriber woes are well publicized – I think HBO Max is about to have a “churn” problem. Churning, if you’re not familiar, is that situation where people cancel a service only to come back later. I recommend everyone give it a try, just like when I canceled Netflix and then came back when the service had something I wanted.
Canceling HBO Max feels so alien to me in the abstract because it’s so good at delivering a steady stream of great new shows and movies. Each month, HBO Max takes pride of place in my column on which streaming services to cancel this month. So why am I expecting to cancel HBO Max?
HBO Max price hike seems ‘inevitable’
This concern has been on my mind since March, when we learned how Discovery’s then-impending acquisition of WarnerMedia was going to impact HBO Max (a WarnerMedia site). Speaking at Deutsche Bank’s 30th Annual Media, Internet and Telecom Conference, Discovery Chief Financial Officer Gunnar Wiedenfels, as reported by Variety, said “one of the most important things here is that we believe in a combined product rather than a bundle”.
This news – that Warner Bros. Discovery (the new name for the mega-company) will merge HBO Max and Discovery Plus to form a supersite – landed like a lead balloon for me. Because it screams that a price hike is inevitable. And HBO Max is already expensive at $14.99 per month (I’m paying for the ad-free tier, and maybe a price hike would bump me up to the ad-supported tier?), but I don’t want to spend as much as it is. And I don’t want publicity either. What if this new service was too expensive? I’m ready to say “goodbye for now”.
HBO Max starts at $9.99 per month (with ads) and Discovery Plus costs $4.99 per month (also with ads) – so it’s not like either of these services are that cheap. ‘they could be combined without increasing the price that HBO Max (or Discovery Plus subscribers) pay.
Maybe CNN Plus (RIP) content could be added to HBO Max without a price increase (because no one was paying for it), but Discovery Plus seems like something Warner Bros. Discovery will not give away for free.
|HBO Max||Discovery More|
|Monthly price without ads||$14.99||$6.99|
|Ad-supported monthly price||$9.99||$4.99|
But while my intuition on this is informed, I wanted to speak with an expert. So I asked one of my favorite people in the streaming landscape — Julia Alexander, senior strategy analyst at Parrot Analytics — if she agrees that HBO Max is about to cost more.
And, unfortunately for me and all HBO Max subscribers like me, she agreed. She even used the word “inevitable,” which has been swirling around in my head since Wiedenfels’ announcement.
Doubtful. And, while price increases are inevitable, trying to reduce churn during the initial offering so that a pricing strategy can be developed for the final product seems like the most opportunistic way for WarBroDisco to go. forward. So maybe not a massive hike.April 26, 2022
Julia’s idea that it won’t be a massive price hike makes a lot of sense – Warner Bros. Discovery won’t actively want to push people back with a big upside, they’re as aware of that as I am. I should add that the two of us are not making this statement based on inside information. It is speculationalthough these are well-informed speculations.
Why an HBO Max and Discovery Plus mega-service is a bad idea
Warner Bros. Discovery is a big enough company that I’m sure they’ve done the analysis to know that there are enough overlapping interests for HBO Max and Discovery Plus to merit such a combination. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I’m not one of them.
I would rather Warner Bros. Discovery is going the Disney Plus bundle route: let people save when they get Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus, and also give people the option to pick and choose.
That’s because I have about as much interest in Discovery Plus as I do in cable TV, as it feels like a holdover from that era. And force people to pay more for programs they don’t want also feels like a holdover from the past.
Yes, I would reject the deadliest catch, cancel shark week, divorce the 90 day fiancée, kick the brothers off the property, and pop Dr. Pimple Popper. Sure, I’d take a seat alongside Guy Fieri in any of the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives he wants to take me to, but one show doesn’t make a (good) streaming service.
Outlook: how much time do I have left – and how WBD can counter-program against churn
This merged HBO Max and Discovery Plus service won’t be happening in the immediate future. Wiedenfels said “nothing will probably happen in weeks – hopefully not years, but months.” In the meantime, we will see a “cluster approach” as an “interim solution”. Yet the end goal is clear and definitive.
In addition to starting with a smaller price increase – for example, going from $14.99 per month for HBO Max without ads to $17.99 per month for the ad-free super service – I’m considering the price increase alongside upon release of a show or season or movie of interest to HBO Max customers. But what if the ad-supported version of this service cost $14.99 per month? I would be about to cancel HBO Max.
Sure, I may not want Discovery Plus, but many HBO Max subscribers may crave House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones spinoff slated for August. Personally, that wouldn’t be enough to hold me back. They could, however, use Euphoria season 3 to bring me back. I know that for sure.
For now, though, I have a strategy: Catch up on all the HBO Max shows on my to-watch list I’ve been told are must-watch. In no particular order, that means I want to go through The Leftovers, enjoy the vice principals, and also figure out if I actually like Doom Patrol or not. So, hopefully when HBO Max inevitably raises its prices, my subscription will stick or die depending on how good its upcoming offerings are.