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TV streaming fans now have a new option for their attention: Max

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Streaming TV fans have a new option for their attention starting today. Warner Bros. Discovery debuts Max, a service which combines the programs from HBO Max and Discovery+ into one ginormous platform with some original content thrown in. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is watching. Hi there, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

INSKEEP: OK, so millions of people already have one of these services that are getting bundled together. What exactly would be included?

DEGGANS: So this streaming service is what industry observers expected when Warner Bros. Discovery was created over a year ago. Now, you might remember that HBO's owner, WarnerMedia, merged with Discovery, Inc. And it was expected back then that this new company was going to create this larger streaming service just to put all their material in one place. So Max brings together HBO Max stuff - which is HBO originals, the DC Universe, Warner Bros. films, CNN - with Discovery+ material from platforms like TLC, HGTV and the Discovery Channel.

And the company also promises an average of more than 40 new programs or seasons of shows every month. So that includes a new "Harry Potter" series and a spinoff of "The Big Bang Theory." And even though there's a writers strike, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav says it's not going to impact this launch that much, at least now, because they have a lot of content that they've already produced in advance.

INSKEEP: OK, so they're making this consolidation at a time where streaming services have grown enormously but have now been under a little bit of stress. How does the cost of this compare with what people were getting before?

DEGGANS: Well, if you have HBO Max, for example, the pricing may seem the same. But there's some important differences for media nerds. So if you're already subscribed to HBO Max, today, you either automatically update to Max or you'll be asked to download an updated app. Discovery+ subscribers can stay on that service, or they can move over to Max. And there's going to be three tiers of service. So you can have a super cheap version with ads at about $10 a month. You can have a version without ads for about $16 a month, which is about what you pay for the top level of HBO Max right now. And they've created a top-level subscription called ultimate ad-free that has higher resolution and sound for about $20 a month. And of course, there's a yearly fee, an annual fee, that would be a little bit cheaper.

INSKEEP: Is this heading in the direction of the old cable TV model where you essentially pay one price and you get a whole bunch of channels?

DEGGANS: It does feel a little like that. They're positioning Max as a more family friendly, broad-based service than HBO Max. And I think that's one reason why they dropped HBO's name, which is often associated with more adult-oriented content. And these changes position them so they can better compete against the bigger streaming companies like Netflix and Disney+.

INSKEEP: But what effect do you think this is going to have on the broader media landscape?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, I wonder about HBO's brand, for example, which has stood at the forefront of cutting-edge TV for decades, from "Oz" and "The Sopranos" to "Game Of Thrones" and "Succession."

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DEGGANS: And now HBO just becomes a big cog in an even bigger media platform. I mean, it still exists as a cable channel. But its name isn't leading the big streaming brand anymore. And I wonder what that's going to mean for their programming. I'm not sure there's that many media consumers who are equally interested in "Succession" and TLC's "Dr. Pimple Popper."

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: And I'd hate to see Max kind of dilute its programming to appeal to some imagined version of middle America. And, you know, one of the promises of streaming is that you pay for exactly what you want to see. And a service like Max is bringing us closer to this cable TV kind of system where you're paying for what you like, but you're also paying for things you don't like or you don't care about. And that seems kind of like a step backwards.

INSKEEP: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMILY WELLS SONG, "SYMPHONY 6: FAIR THEE WELL AND THE REQUIEM MIX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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