HBOMax Explained and Streaming Service 2022 Year End Review!

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Go to the bottom for a discussion of HBOMax and the recent decision to remove Westworld and other shows from the catalog.

One feature of conversations we often have here on EnWorld about geek media is that they get sidetracked into conversations about the various streaming services that are currently offering the content. So while you want to talk about Captain Pike's amazingly dreamy hair and cooking skills on Strange New Worlds, you instead end up discussing Paramount+. Or instead of being able to chat about the delightfully awesome and weird Severance, you end up debating the merits of AppleTV+.

Therefore, as a public service, I have decided to create these series of threads - for talking about the relative merits of streaming platforms, as well as to all people to provide their own power rankings of the platforms. This is the third post on the subject. The original post in August is here. The second post in November is here.

I apologize but these posts are going to be US-centric. That's because I am reasonably certain that the US is the only country, and that every time I have flown "outside the US" I have actually only gone to the World Showcase of Epcot ... which, wow, they do a good job of imagineering imaginary countries!

I wasn't going to do a year-end review, but the recent news that HBOMax is going to change their name AND is apparently removing content such as Westworld and Minx has made me decide to post this for people to discuss.


How are power rankings determined? They are a completely subjective mix of my opinion as to how the service is doing currently, along with my belief in how the service will be doing in the future. In addition, I will provide a trend (up, down, steady). Remember, this is the YEAR END review, and has my belief about not just this year, but the year moving forward. Finally, while the monthly color coding represent how the streamer is performing compared to the last ranking, the 2022 Year End Review color coding represents the overall health of the streamer (as delineated below).

1. Netflix. (August: 1, November: 1)
Netflix and chill? Netflix is still chilling. Sure, it's stock price took a massive hit. And yes, it is the only "pure" streamer that isn't subsidized by something else. And it makes curious business decisions (it could make a lot of extra money by just committing to a theatrical release of some movies). And while it's worked hard (and spent a ton of money) to develop an IP library, it still doesn't have anything comparable to even Paramount+. And it has mostly saturated some important markets (like the US) and is depending on extracting revenue from people who are currently sharing passwords. So .... other than that, how's the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Quite good, actually! Unlike the many subsidized services, Netflix ... makes money. And has a powerful brand. We don't know how the market retrenchment and shakedown will affect all the other streamers, but we can be confident that Netflix will weather it.


2. Disney+. (August: 2, November: 4).
Two words- Bob Iger. His return makes all the difference for this platform, in the sense that people at least believe that Disney has an idea of what it wants to do moving forward. Just as importantly, he is repairing a lot of the ... damage ... done by the prior Chapek regime in terms of relations. That said, it isn't all sunshine and roses- hard decisions about the money being funneled into Disney+ will have to be made. But the combination of the brand, the back catalog, the need for families with kids to subscribe, and the continued IP strength make Disney a player ... even if the eventual play is to sell off the streaming service to Apple.

3. AppleTV+. (August: 3, November 5)
Most people have hobbies like "playing D&D," or "stamp collecting." When Apple has a hobby, it's, "Maybe I'll have a streaming service and win some Emmys and Oscars. That sounds like fun. Maybe a few people will buy our iPhones?"

AppleTV+ is a great service with incredible quality at a low price. It also has almost no back catalog. At some point, Apple might take this seriously, and it has the money to do so. Or maybe it will just keep chugging along, winning some Oscars and Emmys and having a small, but growing, quality library. Who knows? It can be as much of a player in streaming as it wants to be, and on its own terms. The main advantage Apple seems to have is that it has great relations in the industry (music and film) and people seem to want to work with them.


4. Prime. (August: 5, November 6)
From spending a billion dollars on The Rings of Power to having a bona fide "hit" in terms of the cultural zeitgeist with The Boys, it would seem that BezosPrime is firing on all cylinders. And yet ... it isn't. For the most part, it's where IP goes to die. Maybe the recent Thursday Night Football will change that, but between the (still) terrible interface and the still terrible algorithms, Prime just never seems to be a destination.

Of course, they will continue to spend billions on it, and it will continue to be free with the shipping service everyone gets ... so it's sticking around. Like Apple, Amazon is in no danger of disappearing.


5. Hulu. (August: 7, November: 2).
The November ranking for Hulu was based solely on Hulu's content- which is amazing. The year-end review, however, has to go back to acknowledging these basic facts- (1) it is US-only. (2) Hulu is owned by both Disney and Comcast (see Peacock, below).

Simply put, in the long-term Hulu, as a service, is untenable. Whether it's bought by Disney, or Comcast, or some other transaction occurs, the Hulu that we currently know will cease to exist. The current market pressures on streaming services just means that this day will occur more quickly.

6. Paramount+. (August: 6, November 7).
The streamer of CBS, Star Trek, and Yellowstone spinoff series (but not Yellowstone) will continue to chug along, and, eventually, probably sell itself to another streamer. Enjoy the multiplicity of Star Trek shows while they last.

7. Peacock. (August: 8, November 8)
So ... why do I have Peacock in blue? Especially since it is, in my mind, a failed service? Well, some things ... just can't fail. Peacock, primarily known as "That streamer that everyone uses as a joke" is also owned by ... Comcast. Comcast is like AT&T, except without the warm & fuzzy feeling and great customer service ... well, in that it is funneling money from a stable legacy service (internet pipes for internet trucks) to media. Unlike AT&T with HBO, however, it's not planning on selling. In short, Comcast won't let Peacock fail- which is why it keeps buying up more things (from soccer rights to WWE) to try and get people to watch it.

Peacock is the fetch of streamers- and Comcast will make it happen. Even if "make it happen," means, "Overpaying Disney for Hulu and merging the Peacock network into it after super-complicated issues involving the rights."


8. HBOMax. (August: 4, November 3).
What. A. Year. At a certain point, you have to wonder ... what did HBO ever to do Zaslav? Because he is getting his revenge, and then some. This is particularly painful because I began this year extolling the virtues of HBOMax as a service, and (based on the most recent news) I just cancelled it today, having finished the most recent season of White Lotus. It went from a must-have to a "I'll re-subscribe in a ten months or so, maybe, depending on how things shake out." So what was the most recent news that provoked this?

They decided to "un-renew" the previously renewed Minx, and also have pulled shows (like season 1 of Minx and all of Westworld) from the platform. In order to avoid paying residuals. Think about that for a second- in an era when streamers are desperate for IP, where Netflix has paid so much money for IP and platforms like Apple are starved for it ... HBOMax is choosing to remove shows from its library simply to avoid paying residuals. That's ... not great, Bob! Which makes you ask ... how did we get here? And how does this (maybe) tie in with all the sturm und drang around the DC Movie universe?

To understand, you have to go back to the original deal with AT&T. First, the deal (and the deal's numbers) were done in May of 2021 - which was a VERY DIFFERENT LANDSCAPE. The deal was consummated a year later in 2022. Now, the new spinoff (don't ask why it was a spinoff, that's part of the transaction) announced it expected more than $3 billion in savings and efficiencies due to .... um .... a lot of buzzwords and platitudes. Why did they need these savings?

Because the deal saddled WBDisco with $53 billion in debt.

That's right- the net leverage of WB is over 5x (Disney's, for comparison, is at 2x-2.2x). So HBOMax is in a weird position- it isn't a subsidized service (AppleTV+, Prime, Peacock, even Disney+) that can just funnel money into streaming in the hope of future profits. And it's not an established, powerful, and profitable player like Netflix.

And it has a massive debt that it has to service in a time with uncertain, and high, interest rates.

So now look at all their decisions-
Batgirl? Save money.
Removing big shows from the platform? Save money.
Going in a new direction in the DC Movie universe (and not paying established stars)? Save money.
Getting rid of high-concept and expensive shows in favor of more Dr. Primple Popper? Save money.


In other words, it is a company with a crippling debt burden looking for a way out. Maybe that will be a sale, or maybe that will be a continued pivot to a lesser version of what it once was. But when looking at any decision made by HBOMax (or the parent studio), don't think of it in terms of creative decision-making, or the fans, or even the future of the company ... just remember ... 53 billion in debt needs to be serviced.
 

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payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Damn. I really wish Doom Patrol S4 and The last of Us wasnt on the horizon or else id drop my HBOMax. This news sucks.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Damn. I really wish Doom Patrol S4 and The last of Us wasnt on the horizon or else id drop my HBOMax. This news sucks.

Thing is- I can catch up on Doom Patrol (love that show! Danny the Street 4EVA!) next year in a month, along with other shows (Titans is also airing).

It's just a killer, because this was my go-to streamer. It always had the amazing and often unexpectedly great content- like Station Eleven. But I missed a window to get it basically for free in November, and I don't feel like paying to see something I like destroyed.

Maybe, if we're lucky, Apple will buy the HBO side of it. shrug
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Thing is- I can catch up on Doom Patrol (love that show! Danny the Street 4EVA!) next year in a month, along with other shows (Titans is also airing).

It's just a killer, because this was my go-to streamer. It always had the amazing and often unexpectedly great content- like Station Eleven. But I missed a window to get it basically for free in November, and I don't feel like paying to see something I like destroyed.

Maybe, if we're lucky, Apple will buy the HBO side of it. shrug
Yeah im expecting Last of Us to be the Last of HBO.
 

4. Prime. (August: 5, November 6)
From spending a billion dollars on The Rings of Power to having a bona fide "hit" in terms of the cultural zeitgeist with The Boys, it would seem that BezosPrime is firing on all cylinders. And yet ... it isn't. For the most part, it's where IP goes to die. Maybe the recent Thursday Night Football will change that, but between the (still) terrible interface and the still terrible algorithms, Prime just never seems to be a destination.

Of course, they will continue to spend billions on it, and it will continue to be free with the shipping service everyone gets ... so it's sticking around. Like Apple, Amazon is in no danger of disappearing.

They used to be great for classic martial arts movies. In recent years not so much (you can still rent many of the titles that were once on here, in some cases the titles simply aren't available. I still find something worth watching occasionally but not like before (where I could throw a stick and find a good movie to watch)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
They used to be great for classic martial arts movies. In recent years not so much (you can still rent many of the titles that were once on here, in some cases the titles simply aren't available. I still find something worth watching occasionally but not like before (where I could throw a stick and find a good movie to watch)

That's a problem all the streamers have.

Losing content. Because of rights fees. Because other streamers pop up and take them. It's a real problem.

Except, of course, for HBOMax, which is just jettisoning content left and right. ;)
 

aco175

Legend
I have showtime and HBOmax as part of my package and it is 100 channels of the same 5 movies. Go to the HBO stream and it is no better. I think I watched 2-3 movies on there this year. Some of the other sites are not much better though.
 

Count_Zero

Adventurer
To put a lot in perspective with HBO Max - at the start of the year I was worried about the consolidation of the anime industry and how bad this was for competition when Sony/Funimation bought Crunchyroll, and what this would mean in the long term. After Discovery+ bought Warner Brothers (who previously owned Crunchyroll) and just started cleaving through their new purchase like... I dunno - Titans chowing down on an undefended village - my reaction very quickly changed to "Sony/Funimation buying Crunchyroll is better for the health of the industry, because the risk of Zazlav deciding to just kill the service (which was and is profitable) to save some pennies would be horrifically catastrophic."

The consolidation is still bad - as far as anime is concerned, we've got 5 main services - to borrow Snarf's color codes:
  1. Crunchyroll (owned by Sony): Sony has been releasing all of their new series through Crunchyroll, has rolled their old streaming series on the Funimation service into Crunchyroll, and is sunsetting the Funimation physical media branding to Crunchyroll. On the minus side, they have retired having older subtitled-only episodes available for free at lower screen resolutions with ads, at a time when everyone else (especially Disney & Netflix) are considering rolling out free ad-supported tiers.
  2. Hidive (started the year independent, is now owned by AMC): Being owned by AMC had added some firmer financial backing, combined with a possibility of using some of the tech from AMC's other streaming services to help bolster Hidive's rather lackluster player (when it comes to streaming outside of the browser) - combined with grabbing some titles that hit the zeitgeist in terms of anime fandom - particularly "Ya Boy Kongming!" and this season's "Akiba Maid War". However, AMC's own financial issues impacting their other services like Shudder does lead to some worries that counteracts the gains.
  3. Netflix: Netflix continues to license some great series that are airing in Japan, sitting on them until the whole series is out and dumping them out at once, leading to fans who want to watch them as they come out to turn to piracy. That said, this seems to have been avoided when it came to the most recent JoJo's series, so - 🤷‍♂️
  4. Disney/Hulu: Disney owns a significant stake in Hulu, which is why they're putting the R-Rated and similar properties that they own on there as a sort of streaming "Buena Vista Entertainment" - Hulu is also where Viz is putting the anime they've licensed, and it looks like they've kind of been partnering with Disney as well - considering Viz previously licensed Bleach, and Disney licensed the new Bleach anime and is distributing it on Hulu in the US, and on Disney+ everywhere else. That said, a lot of these shows that are finally starting to come out (Summer Time Render, Black Rock Shooter) came out in Japan up to 6 months ago, and are coming out a much slower pace - leading to jokes about Disney Jail being the new Netflix Jail - with the new Bleach series being the sole exception.
  5. Retrocrush (owned by Digital Media Rights, and who sublicenses a bunch of their stuff to other services): They continue to license for distribution a whole bunch of old stuff (and some slightly less old stuff, like the documentary NHK did on the making of Evangelion 3.0+1.0 which was previously exclusive to Amazon Prime).
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
@Count_Zero

Great post! I am not nearly as familiar with the world of anime (more of a dabbler).

My only comments are-
1. AMC is reportedly having difficulties with their microtargeted streamer approach (Shudder, Hidive etc.) and there is a general expectation that this will have to change ...

2. I don't see Netflix changing their binge model (dumping things all at once). I've heard various explanations for this seemingly irrational behavior, but the best thought I can come up with is that Netflix has some sort of internal metric regarding how this keeps viewers on Netflix - in other words, people will keep on the platform as opposed to navigating to another service.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
@Count_Zero

Great post! I am not nearly as familiar with the world of anime (more of a dabbler).

My only comments are-
1. AMC is reportedly having difficulties with their microtargeted streamer approach (Shudder, Hidive etc.) and there is a general expectation that this will have to change ...

2. I don't see Netflix changing their binge model (dumping things all at once). I've heard various explanations for this seemingly irrational behavior, but the best thought I can come up with is that Netflix has some sort of internal metric regarding how this keeps viewers on Netflix - in other words, people will keep on the platform as opposed to navigating to another service.
The weekly release is a sticky widget. I cant speak for the Japanese shows that Netflix is syndicating, but Amazon is terrible at this. I mean, every single series is just awful. They are not written or executed for a weekly release. There is no sense of a complete episode, stopping starting point, or how to pace the entire season. It's almost to the point I don't want to watch shows on Prime at all. HBO, though, is a master at writing for a weekly release. Each episode is written well from beginning to end. The season is paced well so that all the plot, exposition, and action are placed in a way that is exciting and makes sense. Netflix series can fall in between these areas but generally executes for the entire dump at once scheme. Either way, just execute your programming to what you plan to do please (are you listening Amazon????)

Sorry, I had to get that out.
 

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