HBO Max’s UK Launch Coming, Sky Deal Still Possible

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Warner Bros. Discovery is doubling down on its plan to bring Max (formerly HBO Max) to the UK, despite the challenges posed by the existing licensing deals with Sky.

However, the media giant also hinted at the possibility of maintaining a content partnership with Sky, suggesting that the two companies may explore new collaboration models even after Max’s launch.

Gerhard Zeiler, president of Warner Bros. Discovery International, spoke about the company’s UK strategy at the MoffettNathanson media conference yesterday, as first reported by Deadline.

“We want, we need to, and we will launch Max in these three markets,” Zeiler stated, referring to the UK, Germany, and Italy.

“These are three of the most important markets outside of the US. There is no reason we should not do that. Why should we disadvantage ourselves by not launching Max?”

HBO Max phone shows - deposit
Photo: Deposit Photos

But what will a Max launch in the UK mean for Sky, with Warner Bros. and HBO shows among the most popular on the platform?

Max’s Road So Far and the Path Ahead

HBO Max – now known simply as Max – is a popular American streaming service owned by Warner Bros. Discovery that features content from HBO (the critically acclaimed premium cable network) and other platforms, such as DC, Warner, and others.

So, in addition to HBO classics like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones (as well as its spinoff House of the Dragon), Max features newer hits like The Last Of Us, True Detective, The White Lotus, and many others.

The Last Of Us HBO
The Last Of Us (Photo: HBO)

In 2022, Discovery finalised its purchase of Warner Bros. (from AT&T), and in 2023, HBO Max was merged with Discovery+ and given its new name – Max.

The journey of HBO Max to the UK has been fraught with anticipation and delays, primarily due to the long-standing licensing agreements between Warner Bros. Discovery and Sky.

These deals, set to last until at least 2025, have made Sky the exclusive home for HBO and Warner Bros. content in the UK.

Despite these challenges, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav recently announced plans to launch Max in the UK in 2026 during the company’s Q4 2023 earnings call.

David Zaslav CEO Warner Bros. Discovery
David Zaslav (Photo: Deposit Photos / Image Press Agency)

Zaslav emphasized the strategic importance of the UK market and expressed enthusiasm for Max’s growth potential in the region.

The Sky Partnership: A Double-Edged Sword?

As mentioned, this week WBD’s Gerhard Zeiler spoke at a Q&A session – and, as expected, addressed the European expansion of Max, which has already started – without the UK.

While the existing content deals with Sky have delayed Max’s UK launch, Zeiler acknowledged the value of the partnership. “Sky was always a great partner for us, and it’s still a great partner today. That’s number one,” he said.

Furthermore, Zeiler also hinted at the possibility of maintaining a relationship with Sky even after the launch of Max.

“How and when it’s too early to say. There are a lot of discussions going on. We have time,” he stated, adding that if Sky wants – they will still have a relationship.

Sky Stream living room front
Sky Stream

This suggests that Warner Bros. Discovery is open to exploring collaboration models with Sky, potentially similar to Sky’s current agreement with Paramount+, which is available at no extra cost to Sky Cinema subscribers.

This gave Paramount+ an immediate subscriber base in the UK, while enriching Sky’s bundle, at a time when TV shows and films are being spread thin across multiple streaming services.

The Importance of Being a Global Player

Zeiler also stressed the significance of being a global player in the streaming industry.

“You can’t be successful in streaming if you are not global,” he said. “You are really disadvantaged when it comes to monetization compared to your peers and also when you want to transition from linear to streaming.”

It’s worth remembering that Warner Bros. Discovery already has a substantial presence in the UK, through its Discovery+ streaming service, which also includes TNT Sports.

And, interestingly, Discovery+ is also available at no extra cost to some of Sky’s subscribers.

Discovery Plus on Sky new

However, the only piece still missing in WBD’s UK puzzle, is Max / HBO.

The Proof is in the Ratings

Zeiler also highlighted the strong performance of Warner Bros. and HBO content on Sky.

“We see it every single day – that this content is working. Every single day we see the ratings for the Warner Bros. and the HBO content which we sell to Sky,” he said.

This success demonstrates the high demand for Warner Bros. Discovery’s content in the UK and could translate to a strong subscriber base for Max when it eventually launches on our side of the pond.

HBO Max on screen - deposit - vadimrysev
(Photo: Deposit Photos / Vadimrysev)

However, it could spell trouble for Sky, if the company ends up losing tentpole titles like The Last of Us and the Game of Thrones spinoffs, as well as Warner Bros. blockbuster films such as Dune 2.

Yet, as always – some may still say that getting ANOTHER standalone, paid streaming service in the UK is one too many – but that remains to be seen.

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