HBO Max Gives Up on Most Kid-Focused Projects, Abandoning Plans to Rival Disney+
For much of 2022, the activity behind-the-scenes at Warner Bros. Discovery’s premium streaming service HBO Max can fairly have been described as tumultuous, to say the least. The animation segment of the service has been no exception, as the company’s CEO David Zaslav has carried out his promise to reexamine the kids content available on the service.
Moving forward, don’t expect HBO Max to invest much in courting the younger audience. Variety spoke to Michael Ouweleen, president of both Cartoon Network and its after-hours sibling Adult Swim, about the corporate vision for animation, and its place on linear and streaming.
Ouweleen says the combined Warner Bros. Discovery is shelving its previous ambition to compete with Disney. The old plan included a live-action slate of kid-friendly programs in addition to animation. Cartoon Network will essentially be the only in-house producer of animated HBO Max content going forward.
“The go-forward notion is Cartoon (Network) and Adult Swim will be the main source of animation at HBO Max, and we’re gearing up to share with them all the stuff we have in development right now,” Ouweleen told Variety. “We talk to those guys every week, pretty much, and coordinate and plan our activity together.”
Since AT&T dumped HBO to a merger with Discovery, CEO David Zaslav has been slashing budgets and killing projects. Those moves have been especially aggressive with kids programming. HBO Max removed over 200 episodes of “Sesame Street” from its library. It also canceled six animated series or specials planned specifically for the service: “Batman: Caped Crusader,” “Merry Little Batman,” “The Day the Earth Blew Up: A Looney Tunes Movie,” “Bye Bye Bunny: A Looney Tunes Musical,” “Did I Do That to The Holidays: A Steve Urkel Story” and “The Amazing World of Gumball: The Movie.”
Despite the cuts, WBD is not entirely shutting down its animation efforts. It has renewed the preschool DC-themed animated series “Batwheels” for a second season. That series is the most-watched original series produced for the preschool demographic on HBO Max.
The comments from Ouweleen also help shed further light on the November news that WBD had licensed DC characters to Amazon to develop animated comic book-themed series that would stream on Prime Video. It all fits in with WBD’s larger strategy to monetize its properties as much as possible. By paring down its in-house animation to only its most popular content, such as “Rick and Morty” and “Adventure Time,” and cashing large checks from other media companies in exchange for rights to other popular characters, WBD is able to create multiple revenue streams for itself.
The tactics WBD is using may anger those that feel snubbed or brushed off by the company, but Zaslav came aboard with a mandate to cut costs and enhance revenues at the company. Time is still needed to see if those efforts will be successful, but it’s clear that Zaslav’s vision is marching ahead.
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