Posted March 21, 2022 • Last updated March 21, 2022

This Week in WCIW #61

News from March 2022, including the future of HBO Max and Discovery+, and a timely new addition to Netflix.

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Welcome to the March 21, 2022, edition of This Week in WCIW, the weekly newsletter from Where Can I Watch – covering the latest news on where TV shows and movies will be available in Canada.

This week we have news about a slightly earlier release of the new Spider-Man movie on digital, King Richard on Crave, and a timely addition to Netflix in Canada. But first, we look at how the eventual combination of Discovery+ and HBO Max could affect things here.

Discovery goes Max (but probably not here soon)

As was widely reported this past week, Discovery Inc. CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels has said the current plan for the soon-to-be-merged Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD)'s main streaming services, HBO Max and Discovery+, is to offer a bundled option in the near future in the markets where both are available, before eventually combining both services into a single offering.

From a technology perspective, it seems to be way too early to say how the services will be combined, because it doesn't look like Discovery knows themselves yet – Wiedenfels noted that it would take a while to harmonize the companies' tech platforms. (What this could mean for WarnerMedia's Ottawa-based tech operation – formerly You.i TV, acquired a little over a year ago – is not entirely clear.)

It may even be too early to assume, as many observers are, that all customers will automatically get all the programming in both the current HBO Max and Discovery+ services. In some European markets, Discovery+ is already divided into two packages – a base service, and an "Entertainment & Sports Pass" that includes its Olympics coverage – so why would WBD not consider dividing the combined Max / Discovery+ into multiple "passes" within a single app?

What does seem clear is that, within the next couple of years, the existing Discovery+ and HBO Max apps will disappear (again, in the markets where both services operate) and be replaced by some sort of combined app / service. For now we're going to call this "DMax" – a name that Discovery already uses in Europe, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that WBD could reuse it.

So then: what will happen in Canada, where Discovery+ is now available, but HBO Max is not?

Well, as we've discussed in the past, Bell Media's deals for HBO and Max programming and first-run Warner Bros. films are likely to run until 2024 or 2025 – meaning most of those programs will remain exclusive to Crave, and other Bell channels, until then.

Assuming Bell's lawyers properly accounted for this sort of merger / rebranding in their contracts, we'd expect Crave will continue to have first dibs on the sort of HBO programming it has now, as well as scripted in-house Max Originals series under its 2019 agreement, until its agreement expires. (A statement from Bell published by MobileSyrup indicates only that there are no changes planned for Crave for "the foreseeable future" in connection with this news.)

The HBO Max-originated kids and adult animated programming currently being carried by Corus channels like Teletoon and Adult Swim Canada – like Jellystone! and Harley Quinn – would presumably remain there as well for now.

Everything beyond that, however, could plausibly be fair game for WBD's streaming offering in Canada – whether the service name here remains Discovery+ for the time being, or gets rebranded even without HBO programming.

Bell / Crave, for example, has only picked up some of the HBO Max original documentary lineup, currently offering Gaming Wall St. and Class Action Park, but not docuseries like Heaven's Gate or The Way Down which could theoretically work within the primarily unscripted Discovery+ catalogue.

Even some sports programming from the main HBO U.S. service, like Real Sports and the recently-debuted Game Theory with Bomani Jones, has not been picked up by Crave. As far as we know, those two series are owned outright by HBO, so while it might be a minor tonal shift from existing offerings, there's nothing contractual we are aware of that would stop Discovery+ from being able to offer those shows in Canada instead.

Of course, this announcement by Discovery also means that it's much less likely, if it was ever realistic, that the suggestion we made a few months back – full integration of Crave into the HBO Max platform – would happen now. It would be easier for WBD to wait out the contracts with Bell, then fully launch DMax in Canada, rolling the Discovery+ Canada customer base into the new service.

Regardless, the way things are going, we have to assume Crave will look very different in 2025 compared to how it looks right now.

Programming news

  • Spider-Man: No Way Home quietly became available for premium digital purchase (initially for about $24.99) this past Tuesday, one week ahead of the previously announced release date of March 22, on platforms including Apple TV / iTunes, Cineplex Store, Google Play, Microsoft, and the Prime Video Store.
  • In what appears to be a late addition to Crave's March schedule (it wasn't in the March guide or printed linear listings), Warner Bros.' King Richard, the sports biopic about the Williams tennis family starring Will Smith, is now scheduled to air on the Crave 1 linear channel this coming Saturday, March 26, and will be available to stream this Friday.
    Meanwhile, coming to Crave in April, based on listings released to date: Universal's The Forever Purge will air on the Crave 1 linear channel on Saturday, April 2. Halloween Kills, also from Universal, is also scheduled to be available, at least in French, on Friday, April 15. (We didn't come across much more information from on-air promos this weekend; strangely, on Sunday night we saw Crave repeat a promo indicating 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home as being available on demand – it moved to its pay-2 window on Netflix in Canada last June.)
    Finally, a number of media outlets reported that WB's The Batman could become available to stream in the U.S. on HBO Max as soon as April 19, after premiering in theatres on March 4. Unlike last year's time-limited day-and-date streaming releases on HBO Max, this appears to include pay-1 airings on the HBO U.S. linear channels; there's currently a The Batman-sized hole at 8:00 p.m. ET on HBO U.S.'s schedule for Saturday, April 23. It's very possible it'll be different in this brave new world of 45-day theatrical exclusivity, but in recent years, it's been rare for Warner Bros. pay-1 premieres on Crave and HBO U.S. to differ by more than a couple of weeks.
  • The first season of Servant of the People, the 2015–19 Ukrainian political satire series, became available on Netflix in Canada, as well as in the United States, this past week. It had been previously available on Netflix in several countries from 2017 to 2021 (it's not completely clear whether that included Canada), but has garnered renewed interest in light of recent events involving Ukraine and the series' lead actor, one Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
  • The second season of Sky UK drama series Temple debuted last night (March 20) on Showcase and should air Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET through May 1. (As usual with Showcase programming, it should also be available shortly on the Global TV app and StackTV.)
  • Cottage Life has announced two new premieres late this month: the second season of Life Below Zero: Canada (Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET beginning tomorrow, March 22), and investigative series Mysteries from Above (Sundays at 10:00 p.m. ET starting March 27). The channel is in free preview through most Canadian TV providers through May 1, but is also available as a channel through Apple TV.

Other notes

  • WildBrain has quietly launched a channel on the Prime Video platform called FamilyTV, a $5.99-per-month add-on which provides over-the-top access to Family Channel programming like Miraculous and The Smurfs, and is described as including "live & on demand" access, which implies it may include access to linear feeds of the company's channels (though we could not verify such availability).
    We also see that at least a couple of shows airing on the linear Family Channel – Backyard Blowout (commissioned by Peacock) and Baketopia (from HBO Max) – are not available on-demand through this Prime Video channel, though that may be a function of WildBrain's on-demand rights (Baketopia is not currently available through Family Channel's on-demand folder on Rogers, and only a few episodes of Backyard Blowout are visible).

Recent updates on WCIW

No major changes beyond our update to our existing post about Spider-Man: No Way Home based on the news item mentioned earlier.

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