By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, do you think they made a mistake when they got rid of HBO from HBO Max? I read today that they lost a bunch of subscribers. We love HBO but what is Max? That means nothing to me. — Earl, Pasadena, California.
Earl, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) on May 23 removed HBO from the HBO Max name, leaving the streaming service as just plain old Max. The transition, which included a new app, was not smooth with numerous subscribers complaining on social media that they couldn’t log in or that the new app was not available in their device’s app store. A Warner Bros. Discovery spokesperson told Variety that the glitches were expected and that they were quickly resolved.

“You must always anticipate issues on a tech rollout of this scale,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We can share that only minor ones have emerged and were quickly remedied.”

Within days of the launch, the complaints trickled to a relative few, but now it appears that Max has another problem. WBD reported yesterday that the company lost 1.8 million subscribers in the second quarter. By comparison, it added 1.6 million subscribers in the first quarter when Max was HBO Max. The losses were not all from Max; WBD also has Discovery+. But the total defections definitely raised some eyebrows. Again, the company was ready with a response that blamed everything but the switch from HBO Max to Max.

“Trends were impacted by overlapping subscriber bases between Max and Discovery+, expected churn from the end of some key tentpole series, such as The Last of Us and Succession; and wholesale declines, including the unwinding of some very low ARPU international wholesale distribution deals that were struck under the prior strategy that prioritized subscribers over ARPU, profitability and value, “WBD CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels told analysts yesterday in an earnings call following the release of the second quarter report.

Wiedenfels’ list of excuses could be legitimate. But if the company’s streaming unit struggles in future quarters, it won’t be long before the industry will question whether it fumbled in dropping a brand name like HBO from its premier streaming offering. HBO has built a reputation over four decades for producing and distributing quality programming. People subscribed to HBO Max because they knew it meant they would be able to watch some of the best shows in the industry. But leaving the service as just Max could have caused confusion and uncertainty over the streamer’s lineup and mission. The decision to remove HBO from HBO Max could go down as one of the industry’s biggest unforced errors in recent years.

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— Phillip Swann