The PopCulteer
May 26, 2023

We have a longish and heavily-rewritten essay and a playlist for Friday’s new Big Electric Cat this week in the PopCulteer.

MAX Factors

A few days ago the streaming servive, HBO Max, became simply “MAX.”

And it’s a damned shame.

This definitely falls under the heading, “First World Problem,” but let me explain. When HBO MAX launched three years ago, it was instantly one of the best, if not THE best streaming service on the planet. Encompassing the libraries of Warner Brothers, MGM, Turner Classic Movies, DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street, Studio Ghibli as well as the vast WarnerMedia library of televison programs and a few acquired gems, like South Park, HBO MAX had just about everything a discriminating viewer could want.

Aside from the technical glitches that any streaming service will experience when getting off the ground, HBO MAX largely justified its high monthly fee.

The best thing about HBO MAX was that it sorted its content into “Hubs.” If you were in the mood for Looney Tunes, you could navigate right to them. If you wanted to watch movies or TV shows or even animation based on DC Comics, they had their own Hub. TCM had a Hub, as did Studio Ghibli and HBO. It made HBO MAX so much easier to use than, let’s say Netflix, where they have a vast library of stuff randomly scattered across a few vague catagories. Most of my time spent watching Netflix is just scrolling around trying to find something worth watching.

A couple of years ago, WarnerMedia merged with Discovery Communications, the folks who run a wide variety of cable channels filled with a gigantic assortment of inexpensive-to-produce reality shows, much of which are just garbage TV. The management of the newly-formed WBD were the folks who had been running Discovery. Since then, pennies have been mercilessly pinched.

They decided that in May, 2023 they would merge their streaming services into “MAX,” so they could jack up the price. Almost immediately after the merger, content started disappearing from HBO MAX. Entire series vanished with no warning. Lately, more than half of the Looney Tunes libary simply went away. Big chunks of Sesame Street are gone, including classic episodes. Even recent HBO original series like Westworld were unceremoniously yanked with no warning.

The plan was to dump all the low-class, garbage shows from Discovery+ and all the high-class content from HBO MAX into one half-assed service that would cost considerably more than either of those services.

That plan didn’t quite happen. Customers of Discovery+ made it clear that they would drop the relatively cheap service if the price went beyond ten dollars a month. Customers of HBO MAX made it clear that they were unhappy with all the lost content and had no interest in the reality shows from Discovery.

The newly-merged WBD (Warner Brothers/Discovery) decided to drop the idea of shutting down Discovery+. Unfortunately, they proceeded with stripping HBO MAX of its identity and a large part of its libary, vowing to fill in the gaps with cheap reality shows from the bottom of Discovery’s barrel.

They shortened HBO MAX to “MAX,” jettisoning one of the most respected brands in entertainment, and then, to add insult to injury, they threw away the Hubs. They did not fix the glitch where, no matter what you’re watching, twenty to thirty seconds in, the picture will freeze for half a minute while the sound continues.

{A Late Update: Following tens of thousands of customer complaints, Thursday evening the former Hubs from HBO MAX were added back to the Search page, under the heading, “Brand Spotlight.” Give them credit for responding swiftly. So you can ignore the rant I’ve now italicized and stricken through below. Now you can directly access TCM, DC, Adult Swim and everything else, but it’s not as easy to find as it used to be. That was my second-biggest complaint about MAX. They still removed so much content that the service is a shadow of its former self.}

They even had to add “HBO” back to some of the graphics because so many people didn’t bother to update to the new app.

After having to delete and reinstall MAX on the Roku, I was stunned to find that, instead of the familiar Hubs, there were only four major Hubs: “Movies,” “Series,” “HBO,” and “New and Notable.”

If I want to watch, let’s say, Doom Patrol, I have to go to “Series” and then figure out that it’s an “Action” show, and then scroll down to the alphabetical list, and find it there.

And getting there I have to scroll through a hell of a lot of stuff that isn’t what I’m looking for. It took over five minutes to find my show.

If I want to see what TCM offers this month…I’m out of luck. I have to go to “Movies” and scroll through the whole damned list and guess which ones are classics. There is no “Classics” or “TCM” catagory. I think it’s a safe bet that Space Jam is not a TCM offering, but I had to scroll past that movie five times before I gave up.

And I hate that movie.

What has happened is that MAX, has become just another streaming service. I have no loyalty to it. I’ll drop it and save my sixteen bucks a month for now. Once or twice a year, I’ll sign back up and keep it for a month so Mel and I can catch up with what we missed. That’s what I did with Disney+ and I’ll probably get around to dropping Netflix sooner rather than later.

It’s ironic that the streaming services I’m keeping are the least expensive. Peacock is worth the five bucks a month just for the WWE content that I enjoy, and their original series are much, much better than some of the highly-touted shows on other streamers. Likewise, Mel enjoys having access to the SpongeBob Squarepants library on Paramount+, and I don’t mind the Star Trek content. It’s only seven bucks or so each month.

It seems that the problem with MAX and all the churn among streaming services is that, thus far, it’s not a sustainable business. The whole idea of a media company like Warners or Disney keeping all their best material for their own service, rather than licensing it out to other companies seemed smarter in theory than it was in practice.

In truth, Disney and Warners have lost billions of dollars on Disney+ and HBO Max, and the problem is that the revenue streams they had from licensing out their shows to Netflix or cable channels or premium movie networks dried up right as they were investing tons of money into the digital infrastructure needed to support a streaming service.

On top of that, they overestimated how loyal their viewers would be.

I only ever signed up for Disney+ to see The Beatles Get Back, and once I (finally) got my copy on Blu Ray, I pulled the plug. My main reason for signing up for HBO Max was to watch the further episodes of Titans and Doom Patrol, once they eliminated video from DC Universe. With Titans done, only six episodes of Doom Patrol left, and John Oliver’s show shut down due to the WGA strike, the end is near for MAX in my house.

I’ll sign up again in a few months when they bring back The Gilded Age. Then when that show’s second season is done, I’ll drop it again.

And to be honest, I think I’m late to this game. It’s why the “churn rate” is so high. I suspect it’ll only get worse in the future as more people get tired of paying ever-raising prices while watching less and less.

If this keeps up, the movie and TV business will see its content devalued to the point where it’s practically worthless, like what happened to the music industry.

Declan McManus Day

Meanwhile, Friday afternoon on our internet radio station we offer up a new episode of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat. The AIR is PopCult’s sister radio station. You can hear our shows on The AIR website, or just click on the embedded player found elsewhere on this page.

At 2 PM, We present an encore of a classic episode of Mel Larch’s Disco-era showcase, MIRRORBALL.

You can hear MIRRORBALL every Friday at 2 PM, with replays throughout the following week, Saturday at 9 PM, Sunday at 11 PM, Monday at 9 AM and Tuesday at 1 PM.

At 3 PM, Sydney Fileen graces us with special mixtape-style new episode of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat.  This week Sydney devotes the entire two hours of her show to the New Wave-era music of Elvis Costello. With such legendary albums as My Aim Is True, Armed Forces, Get Happy, Imperial Bedroom and many others, Elvis Costello exemplified the spirit of New Wave’s melting pot, mixing punk with country, pop, classical, jazz and singer-songwriter sensibilities.

Join Sydney as she takes a non-chronological jaunt through the music of Elvis Costello during the New Wave era, from his first album, in 1978 to the mid-1980s. Elvis, of course, has never faded from relevance as an artist, releasing vital and vibrant music to this day, but this show is all about his early career, as backed by the band Clover, and with his first regular backing band, The Attractions.

Check out the playlist…

Sydney’s Big Electric Cat 104

Elvis Costello
“Accidents will Happen”
“Welcome To The Working Week”
“Love For Tender”
“From A Whisper To A Scream”
“…and In Every Home”
“(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea”
“Less Than Zero”
“Everyday I Write The Book”
“Tears Before Bedtime”
“The Only Flame In Town”
“High Fidelity”
“Lover’s Walk”
“Jack of All Parades”
“You Little Fool”
“Senior Service”
“Mystery Dance”
“Pills And Soap”
“Radio Radio”
“Pump It Up”
“Human Hands”
“Goon Squad”
“Blame It On Cain”
“What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding”
“Beaten To The Punch”
“Tokyo Storm Warning”
“Girl’s Talk”
“The Comedians”
“Moods For Moderns”
“This Year’s Girl”
“Hoover Factory”
“Peace In Our Time”
“Watching The Detectives”

Sydney’s Big Electric Cat is produced at Haversham Recording Institute in London, and can be heard every Friday at 3 PM, with replays Saturday afternoon,  Monday at 7 AM, Tuesday at 8 PM, Wednesday at Noon and Thursday at 10 AM, exclusively on The AIR. Classic episodes can be heard Sunday morning at 10 AM.

That’s what’s new on The AIR Friday, and that is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features every day, and prepare yourselves for a special RFC marathon that begins next Monday Morning and runs all next week!