Midway through 2022, as Netflix experienced a series of blows that led to crumbling stock prices and significant layoffs, it was easy to point to HBO Max as a streaming service that had things figured out. Its original series were winning Emmys, reality shows like Fboy Island had buzz, Sesame Street anchored a robust lineup of kids and family programming, and its movie library was strengthened by TCM’s deep well of classic offerings.
A year later, the newly-rebranded Max has added some existential bleakness to the streaming landscape, becoming a trendsetter for what’s become a deeply upsetting trend: Streaming services dumping their original films in the trash, or not just canceling shows, but full-on removing them, never to be streamed again.
WarnerMedia kicked off this “cost-saving initiative” a year ago with the bombshell announcement that its upcoming Batgirl film would be permanently shelved before ever premiering on the service. That, plus the removal of series like Westworld and Raised by Wolves (to later appear on FAST — free ad-supported streaming television — platforms) kicked off an ongoing wave of similar moves from other studios, using the same playbook to bolster their own profits.
Having ready access to a vast, seemingly infinite amount of entertainment is a relatively new development in human history. Yet, thanks to Max, Disney+, and Paramount+, it’s starting to feel like it’s coming to a close. Oh, there’s still more content available to watch than one person could ever watch in a lifetime. But consumer trust is built on these platforms being a reliable home for the stories we love — something which crumbles every time a new film or TV show is permanently removed from streaming.
Some Historical Perspective
Shows and films bounce back and forth between platforms all the time these days (as one example, Harry Potter is in constant flux between Peacock and Max). It’s different when a platform-owned original is just gone.
Prior to the advent of home video, the idea of preserving film and television so it could be watched again by consumers wasn’t a priority, to the point where a great deal of content from those early decades has been lost to eternity. The Library of Congress estimates that 75% of all silent films made before 1929 are gone forever. In the world of television, a disinterest in archiving already-aired material infamously affected the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who: 97 of 253 episodes aired from 1963 to 1969 are missing, because of the BBC’s then-policies regarding deleting material.