So yesterday was the beginning of the rest of time for the world of Yosemite Zas and what’s left of Warner Discovery, as the world was finally exposed to the long-awaited MAX app. Our friend Zas actually allowed himself to be quoted as referring to it as “our rendezvous with destiny”. From first blush, on perhaps every level, it would appear that the concept of destiny is a bit overinflated, much like the egos that went into this.
From the moment these companies came together to take over the wreckage of what AT&T turned Warner Brothers into during the short time it controlled it, Zaslav has touted this rebranded and curated approach as the panacea that would make it all better. Based upon the sheer volume of paid and unpaid media that this has had, particularly in the last week, you could not avoid the phrase “the one to watch” even if you tried. Virtually every “A” position spot–typically the highest-priced and most-viewed in any network’s ad/promo load–was given to the same damn spot, during the NBA and Stanley Cup Playoffs, right before the penultimate episode of SUCCESSION, on the splash page of every media website, on the Apple News landing page. Tens of millions of dollars worth of hype, bare minimum.
And for what? Well, perhaps the kindest and most objective view was offered up early yesterday by THE WRAP’s Robert Carnevale:
The app is perfectly adequate if not exactly the kind of technical achievement that would trounce Netflix or Prime Video. But it misses a big part of the promise Warner Bros. Discovery executives made in touting the combination of their content libraries in one streaming app: Discovery shows are hard to find, leaving users with the feeling that they’re just using HBO Max with a new name.
Notably, Discovery+ still exists as a standalone service, in case you don’t care about Warner Bros. movies or HBO shows and want to avoid the inherent confusion of a fusion streamer that doesn’t adequately fuse half the equation. Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav has said that’s because its current customers seem happy with the cheaper service and unlike HBO Max, it’s profitable.
But let’s say you happen to be one of those low-hanging fruit that subscribes to Discovery+ who might have been curious enough from all of this promotion to at least WANT to upgrade–potentially more than double your monthly tab–by seeing what the other side of the merged company could offer you. Here’s what Carnevale reported they saw:
You may notice one big omission up above: There’s no dedicated Discovery tab. If you want the Discovery half of Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max content, you’ll need to either use the app’s search function or scroll down to the Home tab’s Brand Spotlight section, at which point you’ll see familiar names like TLC and the Food Network next to the likes of DC and the Wizarding World collection. Discovery is relegated to this brand section as well, one of the many, many tiles smushed into that far-down section of the app’s Home page.
So so much for respecting your pre-existing preferences. Not that there’s anyone specifically to blame for this. From what I’ve observed and yes, I’ve run a whole lot of testing of concepts, UX, and rebrands (yes, even rebranding a network as “Glue”–because its shows stick to you!), there are an awful lot of assumptions, many of which are based upon machine learning, built into all of this. Here’s a few examples of what based upon my profile–and their priorities– MAX assumes I’d want to see:
All of these cutesy names for endless lists of curated and bundled titles, designed in the belief I’ll be either too lazy or stoned to want to click out after the closing credits of what I wanted to see end. Believe me, once the finale of SUCCESSION happens Sunday night, I am NOT gonna stay for an old episode of SOUTH PARK or a new episode of SMARTLESS. Whatever that is.
Popular TV? A much-anticipated first-run drama and a rerun of a sitcom that last produced an episode 19 years ago? Based on what? Data? Prove it.
Calling the same Sesame Street that was created by the Children’s Television Workshop, and where classic episodes were removed in one of the many cost-cutting measures, a “Must-See MAX Original”? Har de har de har HAR.
Sorry, Team Max. As your colleague Chnandler Bong (google it!) would say, could you BE any more wrong?
But perhaps the most tone-deaf example of how little actual thought went into this could be surmised from the reacton of people who do care enough to go through the app with the kind of attention to detail all of this hype might have hoped to motivate. The writers, producers, and executives who actually make this stuff. And based upon what Lesley Goldberg wrote in this morning’s HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, they are plenty POd:
According to Max, the newly rebranded platform formerly known as HBO Max, Patty Jenkins and Allan Heinberg were the creators of 2017’s Wonder Woman. At least that’s how the new Max “details” section refers to Jenkins, who directed the Gal Gadot starrer, and Heinberg, who wrote the screenplay for the DC Comics movie.
The lack of specific details — and the grouping of writers and directors under merely just “Creators” — has already irked many creatives amid the ongoing Writers Strike and threats of labor unrest among the actors and directors unions as all three guilds are in the midst of separate negotiations with the studios and streamers who comprise the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
After being spotted on Twitter late Tuesday, writers, directors and other creatives voiced their disdain for the move, which comes as streamers including Netflix and HBO Max already have a “skip intro” function.
Steven DeKnight (Daredevil) dubbed the “Creators” grouping an “absolute master class in how to fuck up a streaming service” and noted the move will “be studied for years.” Poker Face showrunner Nora Zuckerman flagged the WGA, DGA and Producers Guild of America and questioned how Max thought the various guilds “would be even remotely okay” with the change. Scribe Jorge Rivera took issue with being dubbed simply “Creators” and called it “Another move from studios to diminish the role of writers, directors, actors and other craftspeople.”
As if poor Zas needed to stoke the fires that made his commencement address at Boston University last Sunday a national story, his deafness a meme, and gave Busy Phillips the kind of material that she delivered at a “Rally Round The Rock” gathering at NBCU yesterday she only wished she had when she hosted an ill-fated talk show for one of its networks (what genius ordered that show anyway?!!), this isn’t helping his street cred one bit.
The very fact that all of this is happening right before a holiday weekend should be evidence enough of what he and his minions believe really is their destiny. HBO (as would many of its competitors) would typically delay the season finale of a spring priority until after Memorial Day, knowing ardent fans were likely to be preoccupied with vacations or barbecues or family gatherings. Those that weren’t would be given the opportunity to catch up with marathons hyping the finale, which would air on a night where there was more overall TV usage.
For a service designed to be viewed on multiple devices, many of which Nielsen still can’t measure, none of that matters. SUCCESSION will appropriately meet its series demise just before we remember our war dead. If the Boston Celtics can continue to channel the 2004 Red Sox, there will be a couple of significant NBA playoff games to watch on TNT. That timing is what drove this download date. So any data that Nielsen might release about either of these tentpoles will need to be either put into the context that people ARE watching the MAX app at their barbecue or beach party–or that they’re still watching at home, in which case all of this was designed far more for show (likely to the still-skeptical Wall Street crowd Zaslav cozies to) than for substance.
If you think I’m hard on these folks, think about the reaction that was evoked from one of its competitors on Twitter yesterday. This from the social media management of Peacock:
I know you’re all very disappointed, but I will *not* be dropping the first half of my name any time soon.
Which, naturally, produced this response.
Now, THAT’S a creator.
Until next time…