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 believe there's going to be a time when I'm going to 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 problem with "churn." Churning, if you're not familiar, is that situation where people cancel a service only to come back later. I recommend everyone try it out, 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 abstract because it is so good at releasing a steady stream of great new shows and movies. Every month, HBO Max has a strong position in my column on streaming services to cancel this month. So, why do I expect I'll cancel HBO Max?
An HBO Max price hike feels ‘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). At the Deutsche Bank 30th Annual Media, Internet & Telecom Conference, Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels, as reported by Variety, declared that "One of the most important items here is that we believe in a combined product as opposed to 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 super-site — landed like a lead balloon for myself. Because it screams that a price hike is inevitable. And HBO Max is already expensive at $14.99 per month (I pay for the ad-free tier, and maybe a price hike would kick me to the ad-supported tier?), but I don't want to spend that much as it is. And I don't want ads either. And if this new service is 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) — and so it's not like one of these services is so cheap that they could be combined without increasing the price that HBO Max (or Discovery Plus) subscribers pay.
Maybe CNN Plus (R.I.P.) content could be added to HBO Max without a price hike (because nobody was paying for it), but Discovery Plus seems like something that Warner Bros. Discovery won't give a way for free.
|HBO Max||Discovery Plus|
|Monthly ad-free price||$14.99||$6.99|
|Monthly ad-supported price||$9.99||$4.99|
But while my gut feeling on this is informed, I wanted to confer with an expert. So I asked one of my favorite people in the streaming landscape — Julia Alexander, a senior strategy analyst at Parrot Analytics — if she agreed that HBO Max is about to cost more.
And, unfortunately for me and any HBO Max subscribers like myself, she agreed. She even used the word 'inevitable,' which had been rattling around in my head since Wiedenfels' announcement.
Doubtful. And, while price hikes are inevitable, trying to reduce churn upon initial offering so that a pricing strategy can be developed for final product feels like the most opportunistic way for WarBroDisco to move forward. So maybe not a massive hike.April 26, 2022
Julia's notion that it won't be a massive price hike makes a lot of sense — Warner Bros. Discovery won't want to actively push people away with a big hike, they're as aware of this as I am. Both of us, I should add, aren't making this statement based on any inside information. This is speculation, albeit well-informed speculation.
Why a HBO Max and Discovery Plus mega-service is a bad idea
Warner Bros. Discovery is a big enough company that I'm sure it's done the analysis to know that there's enough overlapping interest in HBO Max and Discovery Plus to merit such a combination. Unfortunately for all involved, I'm not one of them.
I'd rather Warner Bros. Discovery go the Disney Plus bundle route: let people save when they get Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus, and also give the option for picking and choosing.
This is because I have about as much interest in Discovery Plus as I have in cable TV, as it feels like a leftover from that era. And forcing people to pay more for programming they don't want also feels like a holdover from the past.
Yes, I'd throw back the Deadliest Catch, cancel Shark Week, divorce the 90 Day Fiancée, evict the Property Brothers and burst Dr. Pimple Popper. Sure, I'd take a seat alongside Guy Fieri at any of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives he wants to take me to, but one show does not a (good) streaming service make.
Outlook: How much longer do I have — and how WBD may counter-program against churn
This merged HBO Max and Discovery Plus service won't be happening in the immediate future. Wiedenfels has said it will likely be "nothing that’s going to happen in weeks — hopefully not in years, but in several months." In the meantime, we will see a "bundling approach" as an "interim solution." Still, the end goal is clear and final.
Aside from starting with a smaller price hike — say, going from $14.99 per month for ad-free HBO Max to $17.99 per month for the ad-free super-service — I envision the price hike coming alongside the release of a show or season or movie that HBO Max customers care about. But if the ad-supported version of this service was $14.99 per month? I'd be on my way to cancel HBO Max.
Sure, I may not want Discovery Plus, but many HBO Max subscribers may have a deep need for House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones spinoff set for August. Personally, that wouldn't be enough to keep me hanging on. They could use Euphoria season 3 to get me to come back, though. I know that for sure.
For now, though, I've got one strategy: catch up on all the HBO Max shows in my to-watch-list I have been told are must-sees. In no particular order, that means I want to crash through The Leftovers, enjoy Vice Principals and also figure out if I actually like Doom Patrol or not. So, hopefully, by the time HBO Max inevitably raises its prices, my subscription will stay or go based on the quality of its upcoming offerings.
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