By John Gruber
Sky Guide brings the beauty of the stars down to Earth.
Warner Bros. Discovery today introduced Max, its enhanced streaming service, which will launch in the U.S. on May 23. Max is the destination for HBO Originals, Warner Bros. films, Max Originals, the DC universe, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an expansive offering of kids content, and best-in-class programming across food, home, reality, lifestyle and documentaries from leading brands like HGTV, Food Network, Discovery Channel, TLC, ID and more. Max will stand out amongst streamers by uniquely combining unrivaled breadth and superior quality with iconic franchises and strong product experience, all for great value.
I would argue the opposite: that by cramming their entire disparate gamut of brands into a single service, none of them stand out, and the Max brand stands for nothing.1
Max will offer three pricing options, giving subscribers the choice to select which plan best fits the needs of their household.
- Max Ad-Lite — $9.99/month or $99.99/year
2 concurrent streams, 1080p resolution, no offline downloads, 5.1 surround sound quality
- Max Ad Free — $15.99/month or $149.99/year
2 concurrent streams, 1080 resolution, 30 offline downloads, 5.1 surround sound quality
- Max Ultimate Ad Free — $19.99/month or $199.99/year
4 concurrent streams, up to 4K UHD resolution, 100 offline downloads, Dolby Atmos sound quality
These prices are pretty much the same as Netflix’s, except that Netflix’s “basic with ads” tier (it’s adorable that Max is calling theirs “ad-lite”) is $7/month and, criminally, still limited to 720p resolution. Disney+ currently offers two plans: $8/month with ads, or $11/month without (and with offline downloads). Disney+ also offers bundles with Hulu and ESPN+: $13/month with ads, $20/month without. Apple TV+ — with a growing but admittedly boutique-sized library compared to Max, Netflix, and Disney/Hulu — is $7/month, and has no tier with ads.
When this “Max” name truncation was first rumored in December, I wrote:
Not the worst name they could go with. The mistake with “HBO Max” was muddying the premium HBO brand with the “anything and everything” content of a unified app for everything this enormous content factory conglomerate puts online. My big question is what happens to HBO content. Is it stuck in a tab inside the “Max” app, or will there be a standalone “HBO” app too?
Looks like HBO is now just a brand inside the Max service. They’re ceding the “everything you get on this service is premium content, and there are no ads” ground to Apple TV+. HBO is still HBO on cable, but as the world inexorably moves to an all-streaming future, this feels like “corporate synergy” run amok. The non-HBO content in HBO Max already diluted the brand; now they’re putting even more non-premium content (all the Discovery crap) into the same app. (Today’s New York Times headline says it all: “‘Succession’ and ‘Dr. Pimple Popper’ Together in New Warner Streaming App”.)
Disney set the example Warner Bros. Discovery should have followed, with Disney+ and Hulu as separate apps, but priced together in a bundle. Disney isn’t relegating Disney+ content into a mere tab in the Hulu app, nor are they allowing Hulu’s content to dilute the prestigious Disney brand in the Disney+ app.
They obviously think they’ve being clever with the Max logotype having a dot inside the “a”, evoking the “o” in HBO’s, but I find it just sad — the bastardization of an iconic mark. Either Max stands on its own, independent of HBO, or HBO should be the brand for HBO content.
HBO’s old slogan was “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”. That slogan captured HBO’s prestige: unedited major motion pictures, best-of-breed original content, all without commercial interruptions. HBO’s new slogan might as well be “It’s not TV. It’s a tab somewhere in the Max app.”
The nomenclatural trend du jour for subscription services is to take your company’s existing well-known brand and tack on a suffix like plus, max, or one. Hence: Disney+, ESPN+, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Apple One, Google One — even Canal+ in France. I think that’s what Warner was going for with the “Max” in HBO Max. So in some sense going with just plain “Max” makes no more branding sense than if Disney+ or Paramount+ had been named just “Plus”. But for those of you my age or older, Max also brings to mind Cinemax — Warner’s longtime cable-pay-channel sibling to HBO. Premium and commercial-free, like HBO, but clearly not as premium. HBO is Joe DiMaggio; Cinemax is Dom DiMaggio. HBO is the home of hall-of-fame groundbreaking original series like The Sopranos, The Wire, The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Game of Thrones, and Succession. Cinemax is the home of ... checks notes ... Banshee, The Knick, Warrior, and Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus. Cinemax’s biggest claim to fame from my teenage years is that after a certain hour, they showed movies that earned them the nickname “Skinemax”. (Sleepovers were always preferably held at the homes of Cinemax subscribers.)
No matter what Warner Bros. Discovery intends “Max” to mean, it feels damn stupid to lean even vaguely on Cinemax, and not at all on HBO, as a brand name. ↩︎
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