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Report: HBO Max to Introduce Ads in HBO Originals, Reversing Longstanding Policy

Matt Tamanini

Since its launch in November 1972, HBO has been the pinnacle of premium television. In fact, its whole ethos was that “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” The channel rose to popularity as the cable home for the highest quality movies and prestige TV — long before that term came to represent an entire genre of programming — but also because of what it didn’t have; commercials.

A large part of what made HBO special at launch was that it was different than all of its linear competitors; yes, customers had to pay for the privilege of watching the content, but in exchange, they did not have to deal with the annoyance of commercials.

When the company launched an ad-supported tier of its streaming service HBO Max in June 2021, the policy was kept in place; even on streaming, original HBO content would never have ads. However, as the management team of new parent company Warner Bros. Discovery continues to skrimp and scrape for every possible penny to chip away at the nearly $5.3 billion in merger-related fees, CEO David Zaslav is reportedly ready to slaughter yet another sacred cow on the altar of profitability.

According to a new report from Business Insider's Lucia Moss, WBD has already been in talks with advertisers about incorporating HBO Original shows and movies in advertising packages and the change could happen very soon. Reportedly, this will also not be a temporary situation, as it is expected to continue when HBO Max merges with discovery+ in spring 2023 to become a new service uncreatively dubbed “Max.”

Presumably in an effort to avoid completely angering and alienating consumers, the ads will reportedly come in the form of pre-roll spots for currently airing HBO content, while library programs will have pre and mid-roll ads, and will stay in line with HBO Max’s current philosophy of roughly four minutes of commercials per hour; although it will likely not be long until Zaslav ups that number as well.

The move will increase the advertising inventory available for WBD to sell, and there is speculation that the company could charge advertisers a premium to air their commercials on HBO content.

However, similar to the issues that Netflix is dealing with by introducing ads into its original content, HBO Originals were not constructed with traditional ad breaks in mind, so the insertion of commercials into archival episodes of “Game of Thrones,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” and other programs could upset Hollywood creatives, many of whom are already upset with how Zaslav has unceremoniously canceled projects and removed content from HBO Max.

Of course, HBO Originals have been shopped out for syndication for decades as everything from “Sex in the City” to “Dream On” have appeared in various forms on cable channels, so incorporating commercials into the shows is not impossible, but given Zaslav’s current relationship with the creative community, this very well might become a further point of contention.

With the company’s current financial situation and management philosophy in mind, no change is all that surprising from Warner Bros. Discovery at this point, but for over 50 years, HBO has been the peak of premium programming. As Zaslav continues to hack away at the vestiges of what is left of that legacy — seemingly intent on turning the brand into something more akin to his low-cost, cookie-cutter Discovery channels — this will likely not be the last dramatic change coming to what was once the most prestigious name in television.


Max is a subscription video streaming service that gives access to the full HBO library, along with exclusive Max Originals. There are hubs for content from TLC, HGTV, Food Network, Discovery, TCM, Cartoon Network, Travel Channel, ID, and more. Watch hit series like “The Last of Us,” “House of the Dragon,” “Succession,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and more. The service changed its name from “HBO Max” on May 23, 2023.

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