This week the completely dumbfounding news emerged that HBO Max has cancelled two upcoming films that had already been completed; Adil and Bilall’s BATGIRL and animated sequel SCOOB: HOLIDAY HAUNT. It’s not unheard of for studios to pull the plug on long-gestating projects or those midway through filming that were encountering insurmountable issues, but the decision to shelve two movies that had gone through the entire production cycle, cost millions of dollars and more importantly years of hard work from artists and technicians of every level, seems particularly cruel. You also can’t avoid the comparison to scuttling (deliberately sinking) warships to prevent them being used by the enemy during a conflict.
Why have Warner Bros and their streaming service HBO Max made this wasteful decision? Well reportedly since the Warner/Discovery merger of April 2022 and the focus on saving money to pump back into the guaranteed billion dollar money-makers that will play exclusively in cinemas, the shareholders have realised in their infinite wisdom that it might actually be more profitable to have these films as a tax write-off rather than releasing them to their streaming service.
The war between the streamers rages on, new strategies emerge but no matter how HBO, Netflix, Disney+ and the rest pivot, producing original content, bigger blockbusters and crowd-pleasing IP revivals to satisfy their potential audiences, subscriber levels continue to plummet.
Newsflash to the media corporations: the vast majority of people cannot afford to subscribe to every streaming service. If we’re lucky and particularly want to watch something on them, we might stretch to two. With the world’s wealth distribution the way it is and times only getting tougher for the majority due to a cascade of global socio-political issues, that’s not likely to change.
What’s perhaps more concerning is what this means in regards to film archiving, posterity of the art form. HBO Max is currently the only way to access certain films digitally, or at all in cases where physical media is out of print or in rights limbo. Countless early films have been lost to time, poor poor standards of preservation or simply misplaced in an attic or storeroom somewhere. Mid-20th century TV which was never designed for syndication was unceremoniously dumped or tapes recorded over (the BBC’s treatment of 1960s DOCTOR WHO being an egregious example of this). It’s not too dramatic to say that you’d be advised to buy your physical media while you can or these films could be lost forever, especially if streaming giants see no value in keeping it there.
Currently if you live in the UK like I do, we can’t access HBO Max legally. As an equivalent, our Disney+ has the Star channel with the Fox back catalogue of movies and TV shows. Any day now Disney could decide not enough people are watching any of this media and pull it from their service without warning in the name of views and subscribers to fuel the content factory.
That’s what this comes down to ultimately: content. That’s all that matters to Warner Bros and Disney and Amazon and Paramount and all the rest. Films and TV are fuel for their exclusive content platforms and because they all want all the money they could conceivably have, there are going to be casualties and creative freedom in producing visual art is one of the biggest in the streaming war.
Batgirl and Scoob 2 were not the first pieces of pop culture to be lost to the stupidity of algorithm warfare, but they’re the most prominent and wasteful so far, not even given the chance to rack up views or social media first reaction posts on drop day before being canned. Maybe the filmmakers, cast and crew of both have been saved such a depressing fate but they must also be heartbroken that all their hard work has been set ablaze just as they reach the finish line. SSP