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Dozens of TV shows are disappearing from streaming platforms like HBO Max. Here's why

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Over the past year, dozens of TV shows have quietly disappeared from streaming platforms like HBO, Max and Paramount+. Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi of our Planet Money podcast looked into why.

ALEXI HOROWITZ-GHAZI, BYLINE: A few years ago, Alissa Nutting got into TV at what felt like the perfect moment. All these new streaming platforms, hungry for content, were popping up to compete with Netflix, and one of them, HBO Max, offered Alissa's dystopian dark comedy show "Made For Love" a place to call home.

Were you an HBO stan?

ALISSA NUTTING: Oh, absolutely - "The Wire," "Sopranos," "True Detective."

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: And now "Made For Love."

NUTTING: Right. Yes. So it felt great.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Even when she found out the show would not be picked up for a third season, she took solace in the idea that her work would still stream on forever. So when, last December, she found out her show was being removed from the platform, she was perplexed.

NUTTING: How does that make any sense? You know, like, if they have more shows on their streamer and things for people to watch, isn't it kind of, like, more money for them? And this just doesn't feel logical.

DAVID OFFENBERG: From a finance perspective, it's totally logical. There is a ruthless accounting at work here.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: David Offenberg teaches film finance at Loyola Marymount University. He explains that last year, HBO, Max's parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, went through a merger that left it around $50 billion in debt and desperate to cut costs. Offenberg says removing all these shows helped them do that in two ways. First...

OFFENBERG: HBO Max is trying to save on residuals.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Streaming companies pay residuals to the writers and directors and actors of their original shows every year those shows stay on the platform. So by removing a show like "Made For Love," streamers could be saving millions. Their second motivation, David says, has to do with changes in the streaming business. For several years, platforms were battling for market share, making tons of new shows to win subscribers. But then last year, Netflix announced they'd lost subscribers for the first time in a decade.

OFFENBERG: That was the moment where the mentality in streaming switched from growth to maximizing revenue and minimizing costs.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: All of a sudden, shows that weren't bringing in lots of new subscribers or helping to retain them started to look like costly liabilities unless, of course, someone else wanted to buy them.

OFFENBERG: So all of these shows that HBO Max has taken down represent a library of assets that could be sold.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: In fact, big HBO shows like "Westworld" are already being licensed out to ad-supported streaming services like Tubi. Though, so far, that hasn't happened for Alissa Nutting's show, "Made For Love." David Offenberg says what happened to her show is a sign of the times, as other platforms follow in HBO Max's footsteps.

OFFENBERG: I think the peak of streaming was 2021, where we had a ton of streaming services with a ton of great shows at low subscription prices, and we are never going back to that.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: The recent streaming golden age, where we've been served more Netflix than we could ever possibly chill to, may be coming to an end.

Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi
Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi is a host and reporter for Planet Money, telling stories that creatively explore and explain the workings of the global economy. He's a sucker for a good supply chain mystery — from toilet paper to foster puppies to specialty pastas. He's drawn to tales of unintended consequences, like the time a well-intentioned chemistry professor unwittingly helped unleash a global market for synthetic drugs, or what happened when the U.S. Patent Office started granting patents on human genes. And he's always on the lookout for economic principles at work in unexpected places, like the tactics comedians use to protect their intellectual property (a.k.a. jokes).
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