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Warner Bros Discovery close to picking Max for name of HBO Max replacement

In this photo illustration, the Warner Bros. Discovery logo is displayed on a smartphone screen and in the background, the HBO Max and Discovery Plus logos.

Rafael Henrique | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Warner Bros. Discovery executives are close to formalizing a new name and platform for its soon-to-be launched streaming service that will combine the preexisting HBO Max and Discovery+ services.

The merged platform’s expected name, “Max,” is being vetted by the company’s lawyers, according to people familiar with the matter.

Executives haven’t finalized a decision and the name could still be changed, but Max is the likely choice, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Some senior executives are still debating a final name, said two of the people. Internally, Warner Bros. Discovery has given the new service a code name of “BEAM” while a final name is being debated, said the people. Lawyers are vetting other names, as well.

The app itself will share similarities with Disney+’s platform, with Warner Bros. Discovery’s brands as individual tiles, the people said. HBO, Discovery, DC Comics and Warner Bros. will be among the landing hubs on the platform, the people added.

A Warner Bros. Discovery spokesperson declined to comment.

CNBC reported last year WarnerMedia executives wanted a new name for the combined streaming service. While branding HBO Max with HBO crystalized the prestige image of the product, several executives felt the name may eventually dilute the HBO brand as consumers conflated it with everything on the streaming service.

Chief Executive David Zaslav has cut back on HBO Max original series spending, which has helped reform HBO’s branding. Still, HBO has a limited audience that’s largely U.S.-based, and the streaming service will offer much more than HBO — including reality TV from Discovery, news documentaries from CNN, movies from Warner Bros., kids programming, and possibly, eventually, live sports. Zaslav and his team see the value in making HBO a sub-brand within the larger streaming offering, said people familiar with their thinking.

Warner Bros. Discovery management pushed up the launch date for the combined service to spring 2023, the company announced in its most recent earnings call in November. Zaslav said during a earnings conference call that a team has been preparing for the launch of the combined offering, and also experimenting with changes “in large part to address some of the deficiencies of the existing platform.”

Zaslav noted recent changes already being rolled out on HBO Max that reflects that work, including the addition of Discovery content.

“These early green shoots bolster our strategic thesis that the two content offerings work well together and when combined, should drive greater engagement, lower churn and higher customer lifetime value,” Zaslav said on the call.

The pricing of the combined streaming service is still being discussed, the people said.

HBO’s confusing branding

There has been debate at Warner Bros. Discovery about keeping HBO in the name of the new streaming service given its prestige. But removing it from the name will also end a run of HBO-branded streaming services that have confused consumers. HBO Go and HBO Now preceded HBO Max.

Warner Bros. Discovery is trying to reform through a series of changes and cost cuts. The company is contending with a heavy debt load, and, like the rest of the industry, it is figuring out how to make the streaming business profitable, rather than chasing subscribers while spending heavily on content. Zaslav told investors in November that the focus for the business, and its streaming strategy, would be reaching profitability, and not necessarily subscriber numbers. The company’s goal is to notch $1 billion in earnings in streaming by 2025.

“While we’ve got lots more work to do and some difficult decisions still ahead, we have total conviction in the opportunity before us,” Zaslav said.

Commercial-free monthly subscriptions to HBO Max and Discovery+ cost $14.99 and $6.99, respectively. They both also offer cheaper ad-supported tiers.

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