HBO Max's troubles have been obvious since August, but a new twist in the cancelation of Westworld changes things to the point where fans of HBO shows have more cause for concern. Time was, some things felt safe. Now? Not so much.
Yesterday (Dec. 12), Deadline broke the news that both Westworld and The Nevers would be removed from HBO Max. And it was announced that Westworld and other exiled HBO Max shows will be free with ads ... elsewhere.
This isn't the first time a series would be dropped from the service, as we'd reported that the canceled Minx is leaving HBO Max, along with Love Life. Both of those shows come from Lionsgate TV, not HBO proper. Similarly, Sony TV's Gordita Chronicles both got the axe and is getting pulled.
All of those cancelations and removals are annoying and potentially upsetting, but Westworld and The Nevers are different. While Minx, Love Life and Gordita Chronicles were Max Originals, Westworld and The Nevers were HBO series. And that's where things got very murky and uncertain.
A long-standing belief held was that HBO content — as opposed to the HBO Max-branded 'Max Originals — was safe. None of the purely-HBO (i.e. no 'Max') programming was being slashed and burned. A firewall appeared to be in place. And during the Warner Bros. Discovery Q2 earnings call, one exec said they would be "doubling down" on HBO.
We at Tom's Guide have long held HBO and then HBO Max aloft as one of the best streaming services. Then, we named it the best streaming service. Now, I'm not so sure.
Is nothing on HBO Max safe?
Streaming services 'lose' movies and shows all the time. It's just very rare that the shows are their exclusive originals. Nearly 99% of the shows or movies this happens to were licensed (Netflix has done this once, with Hemlock Grove) from another company — as was the case with Lionsgate TV and Sony TV above.
Now, with actual HBO shows getting deleted from the service, nothing feels safe — and media collectors are likely shouting "I told you so!" And it's probably making some worry about how they'll access some of the best HBO Max shows and best movies on HBO Max if they got cut.
Yours truly? I love many an HBO Max show, but most seem in good health and have more seasons coming. Tell that to the cast of Minx, which was canceled after season 2 — which won't air on HBO Max — wrapped. So I'm mostly worried about shows and movies that might not be getting enough love to meet some internal metrics at Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO Max's parent company.
These recent HBO Max cancelations and removals have mostly been blamed on the concept that shows and movies that don't have a large enough audience aren't profitable enough to store on a streaming service. Not only do royalties need to be paid, but upkeep costs of housing a show exist.
And it's reminded me why I've been concerned about the utterly-excellent limited series Station Eleven, an HBO Max series from Paramount Television Studios. Yes, it's an HBO Max show, so it didn't feel "safe" after yesterday's news about Minx, but all of these recent developments started a conversation about the adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel's book about life during a flu pandemic — one of the best HBO Max shows.
We at Tom's Guide believe Station Eleven is one of the best TV shows of 2022, but that might not be enough. It is a limited series, and doesn't have more seasons coming, so I have a concern that there may not be enough people discovering it or rewatching to meet some standards.
Say "welcome back" to optical media
I'm the kind of person who still purchases Blu-rays of movies and shows that mean something to me. Programs and films that I wouldn't want to be without.
Station Eleven creator and showrunner Patrick Somerville has been indirectly acknowledging my concerns, and showing me I'm not alone. On Twitter, he addressed the issue, starting by acknowledging the fan interest, stating "I know this has come up a lot for fans of the show, and I apologize for not speaking to it." He then explained that DVDs of Station Eleven exist, and are being produced in an odd on-demand way. Trying to find them online, I've struck out. The media is listed as "currently unavailable" on Amazon.
About six weeks ago, a legitimate DVD version of the show did in fact become available from Viacom/Paramount, but it wasn’t something the creators or producers were informed of, and def not something we had oversight over. Still, I was glad to see it existed.December 13, 2022
Somerville's notes included the fact that "all of the makers of the show were caught off guard" by the DVDs even appearing.
At the end, Somerville concluded with two unfortunate hard facts. First: we have to watch Station Eleven on HBO Max to help keep it around, as he said "The only way to really ensure shows remain available is that they generate too much interest (and completion) for anyone to justify removing them." Though his next tweet — "And even then… 🤷♂️." makes it sound like nothing is for certain.
The second, and more troubling thing he wrote i,s "If you take anything from this thread, take this— even the people who make shows have no f**kin’ idea what’s gonna happen tomorrow, just like the execs who passionately fought for them for years have no idea if they’ll be employed tomorrow. That runs all the way up to the CEOs."
Outlook: Will HBO Max accidentally bring piracy back?
The sound you may have heard after Somerville's Twitter thread was posted, was the sound of Station Eleven fans far and wide looking into how to secure a digital copy of the series. As much as I want to do my part to ensure Station Eleven's survival, it's not the kind of series you always want to watch (as noted above, it's about a version of humanity that's been irrevocably ravaged by a pandemic).
Streaming services are not libraries. While we may expect some things to never leave (I'd bet money Stranger Things stays on Netflix as long as Netflix exists), nothing is permanent. In the meantime, all we can say is enjoy the shows and movies you can, as best you can.
And look into Plex.