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Cinemax is the latest casualty of the streaming era

Adam Epstein
cinemax the knick

Well, Cinemax, it was fun while it lasted.

HBO’s often overlooked sister channel will no longer produce original content, WarnerMedia executive Kevin Reilly revealed at a panel for TV critics yesterday. And not only will Cinemax stop making new shows, but its library of existing content—like the critically acclaimed drama The Knick—will not be available to stream on HBO’s new streaming service, HBO Max.

“We’re not planning to bring the Cinemax content into the service overall,” Michael Quigley, head of HBO Max’s content acquisitions, said at the same event. Some reporters were rightly confused about what exactly that meant, but today an HBO Max spokesperson confirmed to Quartz that the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming service, launching in May, will not include any Cinemax original series, past or present.

The decision effectively kills what was left of the Cinemax brand. The premium cable channel, which debuted in 1980, will continue to air movies, but it’s clear WarnerMedia wants to divert attention and resources elsewhere as it ramps up marketing for HBO Max.

As streaming services become more and more popular, many cable TV networks have stopped producing original programming. WarnerMedia announced this month that another one of its channels, Audience Network, will no longer make original shows, and will instead be turned into a promotional channel for HBO Max. WGN America, Bravo, E!, and VH1 have all said they’re moving away from producing original series.

Cinemax has been on a weird journey as part of the HBO family. Once nicknamed “Skinemax” for its selection of softcore pornography, HBO committed to rebranding the channel in the early 2010s as HBO-lite—a destination with compelling original content of its own. Its high point was The Knick, a series directed by Steven Soderbergh about a New York City hospital at the turn of the 20th century. The prestige series lasted two seasons and was nominated for several Emmys.

The channel then leaned more into pulpy action fare, with shows like Banshee, Warrior, and Jett. But despite being bundled with HBO in many US cable TV packages, Cinemax was never really able to move past its perception as an HBO-affiliated channel that plays movies and sometimes porn. Not long after AT&T purchased HBO, the longtime head of Cinemax programming, Kary Antholis, left the company.

Some cable TV providers, including Comcast, Charter, and Verizon Fios, had already unbundled Cinemax from HBO in the packages they offer customers—one big reason why WarnerMedia doesn’t feel the need to devote more resources to the channel.

But deciding to keep Cinemax original content away from HBO Max entirely proves WarnerMedia does not see the pay-cable channel as part of its future. The company is putting everything it has into the streaming service, which will spotlight each of the brands under its umbrella, from HBO to TNT and TBS to Cartoon Network—just apparently not Cinemax.

Perhaps WarnerMedia thinks the presence of Cinemax alongside “Max Originals” (the company’s branding for all original series made specifically for HBO Max) would confuse users. Either way, Cinemax, a relic of TV yesteryear, is just about dead as its parent company navigates a new age of television.

 

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