Why Streaming Content is Becoming the Newest Form of Lost Media

What the removal of HBO Max’s streaming content could mean for the future of our streaming industry

Jacob Goldman, Contributing Writer

October is bound to be a scary season, indeed. Streaming giant HBO Max deleted over 36 of its streaming titles last month, including over 20 productions that were made in-house. This comes after news of the HBO Max and Discovery+ merger coming next year. Such of the streaming service’s originals that have been deleted include “Aquaman: King of Atlantis,” “Generation Hustle,” “Infinity Train,” “Summer Camp Island,” and 18 others. More deleted titles include seven offerings from Cartoon Network, such as “OK K.O.! – Let’s Be Heroes,” as well as seven licensed shows like “Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures”.

HBO was already wallowing in the pool of cancellations going into September, beginning in august with the cancellation of HBO Max Exclusive DC comics movie “Batgirl”. The movie, which finished filming at the end of March and was well into post-production, was unceremoniously canceled by Warner Bros. “The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max,” said a Warner Bros. Discovery spokesperson of the cancelled film. According to an inside source familiar to the New York Post, test screenings of the film also came back as mostly negative, which may have swayed Warner Bros.’ decision regarding the movie.

At this time, I have to question the wisdom of these big companies’ decisions. What could possibly incentivize HBO to completely remove a show or movie off of their streaming service, leaving it inaccessible to audiences forever? When HBO, or any streaming company for that matter, gets rid of titles that can only be found on their own platforms, and without physical copies, the content effectively becomes lost media. I have to question why the companies would  ever want such lost media to exist at all, or why lost media seems to have a place in their streaming plans in the future.

One clue may lie in the recent acquisition history of Warner Bros. Discovery. On April 8th, 2022, Warner Bros. and Discovery merged together after approval from Warner Bros.’ parent company AT&T. At the time, WarnerMedia, the moviemaking branch of the conglomerate, retained its film and television heads in the form of Toby Emmerich and Channing Dungey. However, Toby Emmerich left the company in July of 2022, so that he could form his own studio. In the interim before new studio heads can be named, the current co-chairs of Warner Pictures and New Line Cinema, Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, are currently in charge of WarnerMedia, as well as HBO Max. Due to all these changes in leadership, and in order to look good ahead of its second-quarter earnings report on August 4th, it seems obvious that with all these varying new directions to take the studio, the best solution for these studio heads was to just cancel some of their in-production movies, outright. In addition, a major reorganization of HBO on August 15th led to even more shows, especially family and animated shows, being cancelled. In this time of confusion, it certainly seems like these companies are more preoccupied with their financial responsibilities than with providing a steady platform for content they are no longer interested in supporting.

This whole fiasco provides even more kinetic energy to the argument over streaming versus theatrical films; that is, the larger batte to keep movie theaters relevant and to make movies seem more special to the eyes of the populace. Theatrical films nowadays are being shot almost entirely digitally, due to the highly flammable substances older celluloid films were made of. In that sense, a digital copy of a thatrical film will almost always exist with a director or other major contributor, rather than being locked away behind the vaults of the massive studios. After all, you can never really trust the big studios to take care of every film they have locked away from us to see.

A good example regarding the deletion of episodes on streaming finds its roots in the habits of film companies in the 1960s and ‘70s, who regularly wiped many of their classic television episodes from the archives. For example, between the years of 1967 and 1978, the BBC wiped over 97 classic black & white episodes of Doctor Who’s early seasons, which are currently presumed to be lost forever. The resulting years have seen numerous attempts to piece episodes back together, from existing audio recordings to animations and fan reconstructions. Unfortunately, modern streaming companies do seem to differ from the BBC as they exist today. While the latter company does officially support many efforts to rework their old missing episodes, HBO and other streaming studios seem reluctant to satisfy the marginalized fanbases of the content they have so utterly disposed of. It seems unlikely right now if any of the recently removed television shows or the cancelled movies will ever see the light of day again.

And it seems that these streaming executives haven’t even learned their lessons yet. Any one of the next shows they decide to remove from streaming could be seen as the next Doctor Who, or worse. Imagine a time in the future, decades from now, when studios can control our very lives in television and film, by simply threatening the cancellation of a favorite show to its audience. Why should we have to trust the future of our television to companies that don’t even care for the right to watch what we want?