As Warner Bros. Discovery forges new content deals across the globe, the future of its streaming service, Max (formerly HBO Max), in the UK hangs in the balance.
The media giant’s strategy of partnering with established platforms in various countries raises the question: Will HBO Max ever make its debut in the UK?
This week, the company announced yet another content partnership – this time with Sky in New Zealand.
And with Warner Bros. Discovery’s current deal with Sky in the UK due to end in 2025, the decisions made could significantly alter the television landscape for UK viewers.
Will Warner Bros. Discovery choose to renew its Sky agreement, or will it introduce Max to the UK market? The implications are vast, and the anticipation is high. Let’s delve into the details.
What Is HBO Max?
HBO Max – now known simply as Max – is a popular American streaming service that features content from HBO (the long-running premium cable network), as well as content from other platforms – DC, Warner and more.
So in addition to HBO classics like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, and newer hits like Succession and The Last Of Us, Max also has a diverse library of Max originals, such as Station Eleven, The Flight Attendant, Peacemaker and others.
In 2022, Discovery finalised its purchase of Warner Bros. (from AT&T), and earlier this year – HBO Max was merged with Discovery+ and given its new name – Max.
Max Pricing in the US
Max, which now includes all the content from the former HBO Max service as well as Discovery+, offers three tiers for new customers in the US:
- Max Ad-Lite – $9.99/month or $99.99/year, with 2 concurrent streams, 1080p resolution, no offline downloads, 5.1 surround sound quality.
- Max Ad Free – $15.99/month or $149.99/year, with 2 concurrent streams, 1080 resolution, 30 offline downloads, 5.1 surround sound quality.
- Max Ultimate Ad Free – $19.99/month or $199.99/year – 4 concurrent streams, up to 4K UHD resolution, 100 offline downloads, Dolby Atmos sound quality.
While the UK currently does not have access to Max (unless you use a VPN), the pricing of the new Max service in the US may hint at what we will eventually see in the UK – if the service ever shows up on our side of the pond.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s Global Chess Game
In recent months, Warner Bros. Discovery has been expanding its global reach by forming strategic partnerships with established platforms in various countries, including Canada, New Zealand, and even the US – with a Netflix deal.
These partnerships allow Warner Bros. Discovery to distribute its content to a wide audience without the need to launch a new streaming service in these territories.
Warner Bros. has also removed some of its HBO Max shows – such as Westworld and The Nevers from its own streaming service, with plans to sell these shows to free, ad-supported streaming services such as Pluto TV.
These deals and partnerships could mean that Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming service, Max, may never launch as a standalone service in some countries – and may hint at Max’s UK future.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s Content Deal in Canada
In Canada, Warner Bros. Discovery struck a multi-year licensing agreement with Crave, a popular streaming service owned by Bell Media, back in May 2023.
This deal extends a licensing agreement that has been in place since 2019, securing the distribution of Warner Bros. Discovery content, including Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, the DC Universe, and HBO content.This agreement was a significant move for Warner Bros. Discovery, as it ensured that its content would continue to reach Canadian audiences through a well-established platform.
It also demonstrates the company’s commitment to forming strategic partnerships with existing platforms, rather than launching its own streaming service in new territories (at least in some cases).
Warner Bros. Discovery’s Content Deal with Netflix in the US
In the US, Warner Bros. Discovery has recently reached a deal with Netflix to start streaming select HBO series on Netflix’s platform.
All five seasons of Insecure are now available, and other shows like Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Six Feet Under, and Ballers are on the way as well.
This deal is a significant development in the streaming landscape, as it marks the first time that HBO content will be available on Netflix in the US.
It also represents a departure from the traditional model of keeping content exclusive to a single platform.
This move could potentially increase the reach and viewership of HBO content, as it will now be available to Netflix’s vast user base – but it potentially undermines Max’s position as the exclusive home of HBO’s content.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s Content Deal with Sky in New Zealand
In New Zealand, Sky and Warner Bros. Discovery have announced (this week) an extension of their long-established relationship with a multi-year content and platform agreement.
This deal secures Sky as the home of HBO, Max Originals, Warner Bros., and Discovery’s globally renowned programming for New Zealand audiences.
It’s worth noting that despite the similar names – Sky in New Zealand has no connection to the Sky we know from the UK (which is owned by American company Comcast).
The New Zealand agreement includes channel and content rights, spanning thousands of hours of some of the world’s most popular series and movies, including current and future seasons of HBO’s globally acclaimed series such as House of The Dragon, The Last of Us, Succession, and The White Lotus.
Sky (NZ) Chief Executive Sophie Moloney said: “This renewed deal reflects the long-standing partnership between Sky and Warner Bros. Discovery, and the continued commitment of both companies to bringing Kiwis premium content and brands.
“As a business, we are making clear, informed choices about the content we want using the deep knowledge we have of our customers’ viewing preferences.”
This deal is particularly significant as it represents a continuation of Warner Bros. Discovery’s strategy of partnering with existing platforms to distribute its content.
It also ensures that New Zealand audiences will continue to have access to a wide range of high-quality content from HBO, Max Originals, Warner Bros., and Discovery.
Is HBO Max Ever Coming To The UK?
Given these developments, it’s reasonable to question the future of Max (and HBO) in the UK.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s strategy in some countries seems to be focused on securing content deals with existing platforms rather than launching its own streaming service in new territories – although it did launch HBO Max in several European countries.
The partnership approach allows the company to leverage the established user base of existing platforms and avoid the costs and challenges associated with launching a new service.
In the UK, the situation is further complicated by long-term licensing deals with Sky, which have been in place since 2010 and are set to remain until at least 2025.
These licensing deals make Sky (and its streaming service NOW) “the UK home of existing and upcoming HBO productions, as well as productions from HBO Max.”
Therefore, most of HBO’s content can be found on Sky in the UK: from Game of Thrones and its prequel series House Of The Dragon, to DC shows such as Peacemaker, as well as Warner Bros. films.
As the company’s deal with Sky is due to end in 2025, there are two possible scenarios. Warner Bros. Discovery could choose to launch Max in the UK, following the model it has used in the US, Latin America and a few European countries.
Alternatively, it could decide to renew its agreement with Sky, following the model it has more recently used in Canada and New Zealand.
Given the recent trend, the latter scenario – which was almost unthinkable a year ago – now sounds possible.
Renewing the deal with Sky would allow Warner Bros. Discovery to continue distributing its content to a large audience without the need to establish a new platform.
However, only time will tell what the company’s final decision will be.