Last May, media conglomerate AT&T announced they were undoing one of their biggest mergers ever: they were going to sell their former TimeWarner division, now operating as WarnerMedia. AT&T purchased TimeWarner for $109 billion in 2016, and in 2021, they agreed to sell WarnerMedia to Discovery for $43 billion.
However, the deal was pending regulatory approval. And on February 9th, they got it.
Preparations for Warner Bros. Discovery
Since the Justice Department won’t block the deal, the two companies will unite under the name Warner Bros. Discovery and bring brands like Cartoon Network, DC, HBO, Animal Planet, OWN, and TLC under one banner.
The deal may be finalized as soon as this April after shareholder votes and naming the leadership positions.
One challenge during this time is dealing with difficulties at CNN after talent and executives have left in recent months due to sexual harassment or failing to disclose romantic relationships. CNN is planning to launch its own streaming service this spring. As of December 2021, CNN+ is expected to debut in March for $5.99 a month with CNN shows currently on HBO Max being moved to CNN+. There are already doubts about CNN+, but the more pressing question is how Warner Bros. Discovery will handle HBO Max and Discovery+.
In November, Discovery Streaming and International’s president indicated Discovery+ and HBO Max will likely first have a bundle option (think The Disney Bundle with Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+) before eventually combining into one service.
HBO Max costs $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year with ads or $14.99/$149.99 without. Discovery+ only has monthly options at $4.99 or $6.99 for ad-free.
In September, Discovery+ ran a promotion for 40% off the annual ad-included plan for $35.99. HBO Max has done 50% off deals for its ad-free tier. In fact, I just got an email boosting the six-month discount for another half a year.) So even with their best deals, that is about $125 a year for the two, although one was ad-free and the other not. Going month-to-month at regular for both is about $15 to $22 a month, or around $160 to $234 a year.
But even assuming some sort of discount, an HBO Max/Discovery+ bundle is likely going to be at least $150 a year, probably closer to $200 for the ad-free versions. Considering services like Netflix are raising prices, although that number sounds high, it’d be right in line with current and other offerings. As a comparison, Disney+ is $7.99, Hulu Basic at $5.99, and ESPN+ is $5.99, and subscribers can get all three for $13.99 (or more if a different Hulu plan is selected). That’s like getting one of those services free when you buy the other two. Meanwhile, other companies like AMC Networks are mostly content to offer multiple services with limited bundling options.
Anime and Warner Bros. Discovery
So on one hand, having a single platform with Warner and Discovery content makes things simpler. But having them separate allows for those to pick what they want and can fit a variety of budgets. Even my estimate of about $12-13 a month for ad-included plans after bundle + annual subscription discounts may be on the low end, especially if CNN+ is added to the mix.
For anime fans, HBO Max was originally a draw due to selections from Crunchyroll as well as being the exclusive streaming home of Studio Ghibli titles. Crunchyroll has been sold to Funimation, and the Crunchyroll name has been removed from HBO Max. Anime continues to be available, just now in the “Global Animation” category.
Agreements were made well before AT&T thought of selling Crunchyroll, but who knows what will happen in the future. Sony has mostly been on the sidelines during the Great Streaming Wars, making deals with companies like Netflix, Disney, and STARZ.
They’ve also just recently made a deal with HBO Max for European nations regarding recent movies, so it’s not like Sony is adverse with the idea of renewing or entering into agreements with WarnerMedia and the future Warner Bros. Discovery. In addition, a lot of the series on HBO Max are licensed to other companies like Aniplex and VIZ Media, so Warner Bros. Discovery can negotiate future deals with them directly as well.
Still, while HBO Max includes a lot of popular titles, if it ultimately becomes a singular platform with Discovery+ and/or CNN+ for around $15-20 a month, anime fans are really going to have to be interested in all the reality, movie, documentaries, and cartoons for the service to be worth it. Especially since even if subscribers pay, they still need to pony up extra cash to avoid ads — viewers can go to Crunchyroll and view ads for anime but don’t have to pay anything! Plus, for around that price, Netflix has a lot of anime exclusives and will continue to add more.
That’s not to say Warner Bros. Discovery’s bundle or singular streaming platform won’t be worth it based on the amount of content, and the fact they were allowed to merge is hardly a surprise considering the $71 billion Disney-21st Century Fox deal.
But between Crunchyroll’s departure and Discovery’s more edutainment-based focus, you have to wonder how anime fits in their vision. HBO Max updates it’s “leaving soon” section regularly, and in the coming months and years, we’ll just have to keep an eye out to see if any titles make that list. So viewers should get plenty of notice in case they want to watch before the series leaves the platform, and while most anime series on HBO Max are available elsewhere, more availability is never a bad thing.