This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone paying attention, but Warner Bros. Discovery is looking for every opportunity to save money. When David Zaslav became the CEO of the combined Warner Media and Discovery upon the latter’s acquisition of the former earlier this spring, he was open about the need to shed $3 billion from WBD’s unified budget, and he wasted little time in doing so.
From eliminating multiple layers of leadership within the merged company’s hierarchy to ending scripted originals at TNT and TBS to passing on J.J. Abrams’ $250 million HBO show “Demimonde,” no stone has been left unturned as the exec looks to get under-budget as quickly as possible.
Coming from the Discovery side of the company, Zaslav is known for running a tight ship. His mostly unscripted network of cooking, home renovation, dating, and true crime shows operates on a shoe-string budget compared to the massive Hollywood apparatus that was Warner Media, and his goal from Day 1 has seemingly been to Discovery-ify the Warner side of the WBD house.
That plan continues to move forward unabated as it was reported by Variety on Monday that the company had decided to end its production of streaming originals in a large part of Europe. HBO Max will cease new programming in Central Europe, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey, while also ending some licensing deals in those countries in order to spend that money on content elsewhere.
In a statement from WBD to Variety, the company said, “As we continue to work on combining HBO Max and discovery+ into one global streaming service showcasing the breadth of content across Warner Bros. Discovery, we are reviewing our current content proposition on the existing services. As part of this process, we have decided to remove a limited amount of original programming from HBO Max, as well as ceasing our original programming efforts for HBO Max in the Nordics and Central Europe. We have also ceased our nascent development activities in the newer territories of Netherlands and Turkey, which had commenced over the past year. Our commitment to these markets has not changed. We will continue to commission local content for Warner Bros. Discovery’s linear networks in these regions and we remain substantial acquirers of local third-party content for use on our streaming services.”
Variety’s report indicates that while projects in development will end immediately, shows that are already in production — and some that have previously been green-lit — will continue. However, WBD might look to license those shows to other outlets in an effort to increase revenue.
The announcement comes as nearly all premium streaming services — including HBO Max — are looking to expand internationally as domestic subscriber numbers approach a saturation point. Despite “Lust” and “Kamikaze” being two of the streaming service’s most acclaimed international shows — hailing from Sweden and Denmark respectively — both shows will be removed from the service, as will Hungary’s “The Informant.” Variety reports that some U.S. content will be removed from the platform in the impacted countries as well.
Despite the moves in large swaths of Europe, HBO Max productions in Spain and France will continue as planned. Spanish-language content has become an important focus for many streamers as they look to expand their reach to markets around the world, especially in Latin America, so this move makes sense for WBD from a growth standpoint.
On the other hand, France has strict laws about the percentage of programming on streaming services that must be from the country, so while HBO Max hasn’t even launched in France yet, if it is to have any presence in the country at all, it will need to build up a substantial library of French content.
With the ending of original programming in these European regions, more layoffs are expected from the company. While production on projects for WBD linear outlets is expected to continue without interruption, Variety is reporting that Zaslav and his team are looking at other territories around the world that might end up having similar fates to the Nordics and Central Europe.
Following the first quarter of 2022, HBO Max reported having 76.8 million subscribers globally, including 28.1 outside of the United States, an increase of 1.2M during Q1. Whether or not the pullback on international originals stifles growth in the affected regions is yet to be seen, but it certainly signals a change in philosophy at HBO Max that is different from what we’ve seen from the company’s streaming competitors.
While other services, especially Netflix, are focusing on international programming as a way to further their respective subscriber bases, Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery appear to be looking at it as a way to trim money from a budget that they believe was bloated when they inherited it.
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