Harry Potter series, another ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel coming to Max streaming service

April 13, 2023 - 12:36 PM
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The throne is pictured in the 'The Destroyed Throne Room' set from the TV show Game of Thrones during the media preview day for the opening of the new Game of Thrones studio tour at Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, February 2, 2022. (Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

 Warner Bros Discovery Inc WBD.O on Wednesday said it will launch on May 23 its long-awaited new streaming service, christened “Max”, combining HBO Max’s scripted entertainment with Discovery’s reality shows.

The service will seek to expand its reach beyond devotees of HBO’s acclaimed and edgy shows by incorporating more unscripted fare, plus high-profile shows such as a new series based on the Harry Potter books by author J.K. Rowling, and another prequel to popular fantasy series “Game of Thrones.”

Warner Bros, Walt Disney DIS.N and other media companies are spending billions on fresh programming to compete for customers with streaming pioneer Netflix Inc NFLX.O.

Shares in Warner Bros Discovery closed down nearly 6%, part of a broader decline in streaming stocks after critical remarks from renowned investor Warren Buffett.

“It’s not really a very good business,” Buffett said on CNBC television. While people working in entertainment “make lots of money, the shareholders really haven’t done that great over time.”

Buffett is an investor in Paramount Global, which dropped 3% on Wednesday. Disney fell 2.5% and Netflix was down 2%.

Warner Bros Discovery shares had risen 48% this year ahead of Wednesday’s event.

“This is our time, this is our chance,” Chief Executive David Zaslav said during a presentation held on the Warner studio lot in Burbank, California. “I feel like for our company, this is our rendezvous with destiny.”

Prices for Max would range $9.99 a month for the ad-supported version to $19.99 a month for “Max Ultimate” – the ad-free tier that allows 4 concurrent streams.

The new service will serve as a test Zaslav’s ambition to create one of the world’s leading streaming services by assembling a collection of disparate assets, from the Barefoot Contessa cooking show to Batman to Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Speaking at the launch of the service, Zaslav said HBO’s “one-of-a-kind storytelling” would bring subscribers to the service while Discovery’s unscripted programming will retain them.

Warner Bros Discovery eliminated “HBO” from the name of the streaming service, which for some viewers connotes bespoke series but repels others.

Global streaming chief J.B. Perrette said, “HBO is HBO” and it “should not be pushed to the breaking point” by taking on a wide variety of content offered by HBO and Discovery.

“We look to go broader,” Perrette said, “And we think we can compete with the biggest players in the space.”

The service will feature HBO content including multiple Emmy award-winning drama series “Succession” and hit video-game adaptation “The Last of Us.”

New titles

It will also have several new titles based on well-known franchises, including a prequel to popular show “Game of Thrones” called “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight”.

The opportunity to better capitalize on the streaming video revolution was one of the justifications for the merger of Discovery and WarnerMedia in 2022.

But by the time the deal closed in April last year, Wall Street’s enthusiasm for streaming had begun to wane, as Netflix NFLX.O reported its first loss of subscribers in more than a decade. Investors began prioritizing profits over subscriber gains, ushering in a new frugality across Hollywood.

CEO Zaslav added Warner Bros films would enjoy a traditional theatrical release and reap box office proceeds before becoming available on the streaming service.

It licensed some of these shows to other streaming services, as Warner Bros Discovery looked for new ways to monetize its film and television libraries.

Like other media companies, Warner Bros Discovery has yet to turn a profit on its HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming services, though the company has reduced losses from them.

Streaming remains a priority for the company, which has set a subscriber goal of 130 million by 2025, which is a fraction of Netflix’s 231 million subscribers.

—Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Aurora Ellis