We rank HBO Max as the best streaming service out there, but its pole position is under threat. Not because of a rival service as Netflix or Disney Plus closing the gap, but rather because Warner Bros. Discovery seems intent on dismantling its own streaming platform.
As originally reported by Vulture, HBO Max has just removed a large collection of Looney Tunes shorts as well as multiple seasons of The Flintstones. In total, more than 250 cartoon shorts have been removed, these were listed on the service under Looney Tunes seasons 16 to 31. Spanning releases from 1950 up to 2004, the shorts removed from HBO Max include “What’s Opera, Doc?,” “Rabbit of Seville” and “One Froggy Evening." At least seasons 1 to 15 (comprised of shorts released between 1930 and 1940) remain available to watch... for now.
In the case of The Flintstones, the number of stone-age adventures available to HBO Max subscribers has now been dramatically reduced. The entirety of seasons four through six, comprised of 78 total episodes, have been removed from the service. At least the first three seasons of the Hanna-Barbera classic are still available to stream, but that will come as little consolation to anybody wanting to enjoy the beloved cartoon in its entirety.
It’s not just classic cartoons leaving HBO Max either. It was announced last month that several HBO shows will be removed from the service in the coming week. Most prominent among them is sci-fi series Westworld, but the once critically-acclaimed show is far from the only causality. Raised by Wolves, FBoy Island, Legendary, Finding Magic Mike, Head of the Class and The Time Traveler’s Wife are all set to vacate HBO Max later this year. It’s been confirmed these shows will be licensed to free ad-based streamers instead.
The latest HBO Max content removals come after several months of turmoil for the platform. The service has been enduring a content purge that started last summer with the removal of several Cartoon Network and Adult Swim animated shows. This continued with almost 40 movies and TV shows leaving the platform in August. And since then there’s been a slow drip of more and more content being removed raising questions about the service’s long-term future.
Why is HBO Max losing so much content?
The short answer to why HBO Max’s content library seems to be in such a state of flux appears to be the merger between Warner Bros (HBO’s parent company) and Discovery to form Warner Bros. Discovery.
In the wake of this corporate merger, it was confirmed that previously independent platforms HBO Max and Discovery Plus will be combined into a single streaming service this spring — and it’s rumored to be called simply “Max”. And, no, we’re not a fan of that name either.
So just why does a merger between two companies and the consolidation of two streaming platforms mean that HBO Max’s vast content catalog is being slowly drained? Well, that’s a slightly more complex question to answer.
It’s believed that under new CEO David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to perform serious cost-cutting measures. That’s why, for example, the Batgirl movie planned for HBO Max was shelved even though production was almost complete. Removing streaming content is a big money saver as services must pay residuals to cast and crew members in order to keep content available to stream. And even if the residual payments are small, these costs add up when you’re talking about hundreds of different TV shows and movies.
CNN Business reports that HBO Max could be set to save “north of $100 million annually” because of its content purge. And it should be noted that HBO Max is generally losing content that can be considered less popular. Flagship shows such as House of the Dragon, Succession and Euphoria are still available, whereas the likes of Minx and Love Life (both of which have been removed) probably weren't attracting much interest.
Warner Bros. Discovery appears to be making a calculated decision to remove enough content to save significant money, but not so much that it causes large numbers of subscribers to cancel. And while we find this ongoing content purge pretty frustrating, we’ve not yet reached the tipping point where we’d advise against investing in an HBO Max subscription. Especially with flagship shows like The Last of Us set to premier on the service later this month, it’s hard to see too many viewers unsubscribing because there's less Bugs Bunny shorts to watch.