Why HBO’s Moves Could Signal the End of the Streaming Wars

A reported deal with Netflix may speak volumes about the brand's future

hbo streaming wars warner bros. discovery
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    Welcome to a Consequence Chat, a feature that finds Consequence staff members debating the biggest stories in pop culture. Today, we look what HBO’s latest moves mean for the Streaming Wars. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

    Liz Shannon Miller (Senior Entertainment Editor): It continues to be a turbulent time for Warner Bros. Discovery, which recently made news on multiple fronts: Top executives for TCM, the company’s beloved classic film brand, were laid off in a move that had even Scorsese and Spielberg concerned. In addition, the company is also reportedly selling off about half of its film and TV music catalog, and on June 21st, reports suggested that HBO’s newish parent company was in talks to license parts of the HBO library to Netflix.

    It’s that last development that made us ask ourselves what, exactly, HBO is doing right now. Or, more specifically, what is Warner Bros. Discovery doing with one of television’s most significant brands, one inextricably linked with the rise of television as the culture’s dominant medium?


    Wren Graves (Features Editor): Liz, let’s start with a quote that I know you’ve heard before:

    “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said that in 2013, and those words could have been the first shots fired in the Streaming Wars — the period when splashy upstarts and deep-pocketed legacy companies battled for influence over an emerging medium. Now, the Streaming Wars may be coming to an end, not with a bang, but with a licensing agreement. The Netflix-HBO alliance would have been unimaginable a decade ago but today it’s unsurprising, as WBD looks to cut costs and challenge old assumptions about HBO. How did we get to this point?

    Liz: In this specific case, the answer seems pretty easy: Current Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is doing whatever he can to make more money off his company’s vast library of content. So, now that WBD is done obliviating stuff off the platform known as Max, the next step is to take shows that may no longer be attracting new viewers on Max and see if they can find audiences on a different platform.

    HBO has never been allergic to letting its titles be seen elsewhere; in the days before streaming, it even licensed shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City to cable networks such as A&E and TBS (with the boobs and swears edited out). But the launch of HBO Go in 2010 was a clear indication that the network didn’t want to turn to third-party streaming services like Netflix to host its own content — especially given that Netflix was on the verge of becoming a major contender on HBO’s home court: the Emmy Awards.


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