Why Has HBO Max Pulled All Those Original Shows and Movies? It’s Complicated

The streaming platform has been steadily pulling both original series and films from its catalog, mostly affecting family and children’s programming

"Esme and Roy" (HBO Max)
"Esme and Roy" (HBO Max)

In the wake of Warner Bros. Discovery’s merger, HBO Max has removed a host of titles, including many that it produced and owns outright, prompting a single question — why?

Earlier this week, HBO Max thinned its library of available titles with the removal of 20 originals and an additional 16 movies. Some of the impacted titles were the one-season cult queer series “Genera+ion,” and animated shows like “Infinity Train” and “Summer Camp Island.” The streamer also announced that select “Sesame Street” specials would be cut, which turned out to be around 200 episodes of the iconic children’s show.

The answer is both simple and complex. Company insiders told CNBC that the dropped shows were not frequently watched but that their removal is expected to produce “tens of millions” of dollars in savings as Warner Bros. Discovery seeks to trim about $3 billion to pay down post-merger debt that has ballooned to more than $50 billion, as TheWrap previously reported.

Even if HBO Max owns a show, after all, there are expenses involved in keeping it in circulation — including back-end residual payments to top stars, directors and writers the longer a program stays on the streaming platform.

In addition, many streamers have found a value in decluttering the volume of content that’s available to subscribers to boost the “discoverability” factor for shows that might draw a bigger audience. It’s an issue that has bedeviled many content-rich services like Netflix.

That’s particularly important as Warner Bros. Discovery, under the leadership of CEO David Zaslav, moves to combine the two separate streaming services that now live under its new umbrella — Discovery+ and HBO Max — by 2023.

As part of the move to combine the services, HBO Max plans to import some of the Magnolia Network programming (curated by Chip and Joanna Gaines), with titles like “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home,” “Magnolia Table With Joanna Gaines,” “The Lost Kitchen,” “Growing Floret,” “Family Dinner With Andrew Zimmern,” “Restoration Road With Clint Harp,” “Maine Cabin Masters” and all five seasons of “Fixer Upper” available from Sept. 30. Meanwhile, a CNN tab launched on Discovery+ on Friday.

The strategy at HBO Max is also changing with regard to kids and family programming, and unscripted shows are no longer a priority at the HBO Max portion of the merged company. In fact, there were around 70 people laid off across those divisions earlier this week. That explains why many children’s titles are either being scaled back, like “Sesame Street,” or removed altogether, like the U.K. animated secondary-school series “Dodo” or “Esme & Roy.”

A couple weeks ago, the company shelved the $90 million DC film “Batgirl,” which had been intended as an HBO Max original, as well as the animated “Scoob! Holiday Haunt.” Some have noted that the company could claim up to $20 million in tax credits for abandoning a pre-merger film like “Batgirl” though it’s unlikely to be the main reason for scrapping such pricey project.

Cutting programming from a streamer isn’t anything new. Netflix made headlines earlier this year by canceling multiple series and project in development following major revenue and subscriber losses. Its animation department was particularly hard hit in the kids and family space.

The streamer scrapped its long-delayed adaptation of Jeff Smith’s beloved comic book series “Bone,” which was being turned into a kids series. Additionally, in May, Netflix pulled the plug on animated projects like “Wings of Fire” from executive producer Ava DuVernay, the preschool series “Antiracist Baby” and “With Kind Regards From Kindergarten,” though the streamer said these were not cost-related cuts. Among the impacted projects that month were Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s “Pearl,” as well as “Dino Daycare” and “Boons and Curses” — all kids’ animated programs.