HBO Max is ‘one of the great branding disasters of all time,’ says author James Andrew Miller

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When HBO Max launched in 2020, the name caused confusion because the streamer offered HBO shows as well Warner Media library content — old movies, TV series, and some original content. It would also become the streaming home of new Warner Bros. movies. Photo by Warner Media.

KCRW continues its conversation with James Andrew Miller, author of ‘“Tinderbox,” a new oral history of HBO. 

It’s no wonder Miller’s book is 1,000 pages long — he talked to hundreds of people involved with all kinds of HBO programming — stand-up comedy, sports, documentaries, and of course series including “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.”

Hollywood has changed a lot in the nearly 50 years since the network’s founding, and HBO — as part of Time Warner and then Warner Media — has been through a lot too. Former Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes made a deal to sell the whole parent company — and its assets including Warner Brothers, CNN, Turner and HBO — to AT&T in 2016. With the Trump administration pushing back, the sale took some time to go through. But once it got the green light, AT&T wasted no time making its mark on those legacy media companies. Lots of executives were pushed out, including HBO chief Richard Plepler. 

In 2019, Warner Media — then under the leadership of AT&T executive John Stankey — announced a decision seemingly designed to create brand confusion. The company would call its streaming service HBO Max. 

“I think it’s one of the great branding disasters of all time,” Miller says. “It confused the consumer, it confused the product, it confused the Hollywood community, it confused people inside HBO, and I just don’t understand it.”

While HBO remains HBO, Max includes all kinds of Warner Media library content. It also has some originals, such as the Emmy-nominated series “The Flight Attendant” and “Hacks.” 

Both HBO and HBO Max are run by the same executive, Casey Bloys. 

Now, he’s about to have a new boss. After just three years, AT&T bailed on the content business by way of a deal to merge Warner Media with Discovery, with the head of Discovery, David Zaslav, set to run both companies.

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Guest:

Host:

Kim Masters

Producer:

Kaitlin Parker