HBO Max and Discovery Plus aren't fully merging after all

A person holds a smartphone with the HBO Max logo on it
HBO Max and Discovery Plus might not fully merge after all. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Warner Bros. Discovery has slightly altered its plan to merge HBO Max and Discovery Plus into a single super streamer.

Per The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) has decided to keep Discovery Plus as a standalone streaming service over concerns about losing large swathes of Discovery Plus' 20 million-strong user base.

According to WSJ sources, WBD is still planning to launch its supersized replacement to HBO Max, which would still see its more popular streaming platform merged with Discovery Plus. However, WBD will also continue to offer Discovery Plus as an independent option for anyone who doesn't want to sign up to its forthcoming service.

Following the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery Inc. in April 2022, the newly-formed entertainment corporation devised a plan to streamline its, well, streaming platforms into a single entity. Industry insiders have suggested the new service will simply be called "Max", which would combine HBO Max and Discovery Plus into one platform before the end of 2023. WBD is yet to comment on rumors about the service's official name.

A left hand holding a smartphone with the Discovery Plus logo on it

Discovery Plus will be offered as a standalone service. (Image credit: Discovery Inc.)

However, WBD is now believed to have altered its strategy. Instead, the company plans to include HBO Max's entire back catalog – including the best HBO Max shows and best HBO Max movies – on its new platform alongside most of Discovery Plus' content. Discovery Plus will remain a standalone option for current and new subscribers, too, and will only house the streamer's line-up of TV series, films, and documentaries.

Sources close to the situation claim WBD's U-turn is the result of Discovery Plus' cost effectiveness. Currently, Discovery's streaming service offers two subscription tiers – an ad-supported subscription ($4.99 a month) and an ad-free tier ($6.99 a month). By contrast, HBO Max's ad-based tier sets customers back $9.99 a month, while a monthly subscription costs $15.99 a month without ads.

Additionally, Discovery Plus' supposed low operating costs and profitability – when compared to HBO Max, anyway – is more likely to tempt customers looking to sign up to a cheap streamer. Subsequently, WBD wants to provide consumers with more choice at a variety of price points, hence its supposed decision to keep Discovery Plus as a standalone purchase.

Analysis: will WBD's new super streamer be successful?

Bella Ramsey's Ellie and Pedro Pascal's Joel in The Last of Us promotional image

The Last of Us has been a huge hit for HBO Max. (Image credit: HBO)

WBD's plan to create a new super streamer is a bold move. Currently, the company boasts around 95 million subscribers combined across HBO Max and Discovery Plus. Hugely popular shows, such as House of the Dragon and The Last of Us, are sure to have boosted the former's user base in recent months. We'll find out how much both platforms' subscriber bases have grown when WBD's Q4 2022 earnings call takes place in late February.

Neither service, though, can compete against Netflix (230.75 million users) and Disney Plus (164.2 million) on their own. WBD's desire to close that gap, then, appears to be the main reason behind its merging of HBO Max and Discovery Plus.

However, doing so will be risky. The price of HBO Max has only increased once since the streamer launched in May 2020 – that $1 rise coming on January 12 of this year. With a new behemoth-style service set to replace HBO Max in the coming months, it's likely that WBD will want to maximize its profits. As such, its new streaming platform is sure to be more expensive to sign up to.

Man with his feet up on a table while watching Netflix on TV

WBD should take note of the problems Netflix has dealt with in the last year. (Image credit: Shutterstock / Vantage_DS)

If it is, users may decide it's not worth the monetary outlay. HBO Max, which is one of the world's best streaming services, is packed with critically-acclaimed and award-winning content. As we've seen with Netflix, though, customers will cancel their subscriptions if they don't consider it to be value for money. The number of TV series Netflix has canceled in the last 12 months, and the subsequently sudden decline in its subscriber base, shows that even the most popular entertainment companies aren't immune to losing customers.

WBD would do well to heed those warnings by making its new streamer worth paying for (at a competitive price), and it'll reap the rewards for doing so. If it doesn't, its HBO Max replacement might fail before it's even had the chance to succeed.

Despite the launch of its forthcoming super streamer, it's unclear whether WBD will continue to offer HBO Max as a single platform. There's no word on whether WBD will offer a package deal, which includes its new streaming service and Discovery Plus, once its new streamer is announced.

We've reached out to WBD for comment on WSJ's report and whether HBO Max will also be offered as an independent service. We'll update this article if we hear back.

For more HBO Max coverage, find out what the best HBO Max documentaries are. Additionally, read up on whether there's an HBO Max free trial available.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

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