Late last night, social media users discovered something disturbing on Max‘s servers, or more accurately: discovered the absence of something on Max’s servers that disturbed them.
HBO‘s hallmark 2019 miniseries Watchmen was missing. For roughly an hour, various accounts on Twitter (now called “X” but come on, not really) posted screenshots of searches for “Watchmen” that yielded nothing but Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation and a motion comic version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s seminal graphic novel from the 1980s.
For most onlookers, there was never a question of whether Watchmen had deliberately booted from Max or not. Of course it had. Despite the series being an enormous success for Warner Bros. Discovery’s pay cable network HBO and also being based on another WBD-owned legendary comic, the corporation has not been known for careful stewardship of its brand of late. Under the leadership of CEO David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery has jettisoned some of its big ticket IP already like the shelved Batgirl and Coyote vs. Acme films. Why would Watchmen be any different? Sure enough, Discussing Film reported that Watchmen had been “removed from Max.”
Fortunately, someone (Vulture‘s Josef Adalian in this case) then took it upon themselves to do a journalism, reached out to HBO for comment, and learned that the absence of Watchmen was supposedly a technical glitch.
Indeed, the Damon Lindelof-created Watchmen is available to watch on Max now. You can check for yourself. While this is one crisis that is technically averted, it also speaks to a larger crisis currently underway in the streaming world.
More than a decade after Netflix kicked off the unofficial start of the subscription video on demand streaming era, the technology doesn’t feel any more safe, secure, or stable than it did at the beginning. Streamers have proven to be capricious guardians of their content, canceling their series early, pawning them off onto competing services, or just disappearing them altogether. And as this Watchmen fiasco reveals, there is truly no property good enough or integral to its corporate parent’s identity enough to be spared.
Even before the Watchmen removal scare, Max was subject to another similar “wait, what? they’re taking that off?” moment In late November, Warner Bros. Discovery sent out a list of titles that would be removed from the Max library in December and among them was Looney Tunes … literally Looney Tunes. Like the Warner Bros. mascots and most iconic characters. Naturally, WBD followed up with a quick clarification that Looney Tunes would not be removed and blamed its inclusion in the departing title section as a simple error. Sounds familiar.
But the problem here doesn’t come down to just poor corporate communication or the continuous threat of removal for popular titles. It’s also the fact that no one knows where anything is streaming anymore. And nor should they have any reasonable expectation to know given how the industry has conducted itself of late. Around the same time as the Watchmen incident, three separate streamers announced deals to shuffle their native content around to other, unrelated streamers. The details of which are as follows:
– All seasons of Grey’s Anatomy will now be available to stream on Hulu and Disney+ to promote Disney’s efforts to combine both services. Grey’s Anatomy was a Netflix exclusive previously despite airing on Disney’s own ABC.
– Disney will begin licensing 14 shows to Netflix starting in 2025, including: This Is Us, White Collar, Reba, Archer, Lost, Prison Break, The Bernie Mac Show, Home Improvement, and more.
– Fox’s ad-supported streamer Tubi reached a deal with Warner Bros. Discovery to license DC content like The Batman, Black Adam, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and more. Though those titles will still be available to stream on Max as well.
When virtually every entertainment conglomerate in the world made the decision to compete with Netflix in the streaming space, their value proposition to investors and consumers was simple. They had big, existing libraries of popular shows and movies. So they could create an online space to become the exclusive home to those show and movies along with a slate of fresh, creative projects.
In reality, however, those conglomerates now seem either resigned to Netflix’s dominance in the field or just flat out bored with the streaming experience. Rather than cherishing and safely guarding their IP, they trade content like baseball cards to the highest bidder, creating a confusing ever-changing landscape for subscribers.
Online streaming guides like JustWatch do a great job of keeping track of the chaos but truthfully we shouldn’t even need them. In a sensible streaming world, all Star Trek shows reside exclusively on Paramount+. They don’t. In a sensible streaming world, all ABC comedies are easily accessible on Hulu/Disney+ and all NBC comedies are easily accessible on Peacock. They’re not. In a sensible streaming world, Watchmen is on Max. That one is … but for how long?