Bulletins

HBO Max and Discovery+ are combining to form a Netflix killer

Two streaming success stories could turn into one behemoth.

AT&T CEO John Stankey, in happier times.

HBO Max has been a hit. Combining it with Discovery+ could be even bigger.

Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

As Discovery and Warner Bros. prepare to merge, the two companies are figuring out what to do with their various streaming services. The answer is to combine them, according to Gunnar Wiedenfels, the current Discovery CFO and future Warner Bros. Discovery CFO.


Wiedenfels said at a conference on Monday that the company plans to eventually combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single streaming service. (If we follow the company's current naming processes, that streaming service will be called HBO Max Discovery+.) That won't happen quickly, of course: Wiedenfels said it will take at least a few months to work out, and in the meantime the company plans to offer things like a subscription bundle and a single sign-on process to ease the transition. But ultimately, he said, per Variety, that “one of the most important items here is that we believe in a combined product as opposed to a bundle… We believe that the breadth and depth of this content offering is going to be a phenomenal consumer value proposition.”

There's some evidence that Wiedenfels is right. Discovery said in its recent earnings call that it has 22 million direct-to-consumer subscribers, most of whom pay for Discovery+. Meanwhile, HBO and HBO Max have a combined 46.8 million subscribers in the U.S. and 73.8 million globally. Both are a far cry behind the giants — Disney+ has 129.8 million subscribers globally, and Netflix a whopping 222 million — but the combination of the two services would make Warner Bros. Discovery a strong third-place contender almost immediately.

The combination is also an unusually clean one, Wiedenfels noted. "We have HBO Max, with a more premium, male-skewing positioning," he told the conference, "and then you’ve got the the female-positioning on the Discovery side. You’ve got the daily engagement that people enjoy with Discovery content versus sort of the event-driven nature of the HBO Max content."

Combining the two technically will be a huge undertaking, though, as will migrating millions of existing users out of one app and into another. Wiedenfels didn't mention a price for the combined service, but to subscribe to both right now would cost about $20 a month.

David Zaslav, soon to be the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, has been hinting at this strategy for a while, and it makes sense for the company. Streaming services have said for years that the only way to win is to be so big and so all-encompassing that subscribers won't cancel when their favorite show is over. One way to do that is to have an unending stream of cultural phenomenon shows, which nobody does better than HBO. Another is to have a near-infinite library, which Discovery has thanks to HGTV, Food Network, History and its many other endlessly watchable channels. Whatever the combined service ends up being called, it will be a power player from Day One.

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