Deeper Dive—Comcast and other TV providers leave Cinemax out in the cold

With so much going on it’s no wonder that Cinemax has a difficult time wedging itself into the peak TV conversation. But, without a massive hit to snatch the attention of TV viewers, Cinemax may continue to find itself on the outside looking in. (Cinemax/Alberto Restifo/Unsplash)

Still swimming in the wake of HBO’s zeitgeist-capturing mega-hit “Game of Thrones,” you’d be forgiven for forgetting about Cinemax. But, Comcast remembered the channel enough to cook up a new replacement for it.

Late last week, Comcast revealed that Cinemax is being swapped out in some of its channel packages, and being replaced by Hitz, a new video on-demand service offering more than 200 movies from a variety of studios. Comcast’s logic for removing Cinemax is based on redundancy.

“While Cinemax is being removed from these packages, we believe the new lineup offers a better value. Most of the movies on Cinemax have also aired on HBO. By offering Hitz instead, we’ll be delivering a better variety of content,” the company wrote.

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It’s a tough blow for Cinemax, but not completely unexpected. Earlier this year, Charter kicked Cinemax out of its Silver and Gold channel packages. Last summer, Verizon Fios knocked Cinemax out of some of its channel packages as well. And, as of late 2018, both HBO and Cinemax were blacked out on Dish Network and Sling TV amid a testy carriage dispute.

Cinemax is still available through platforms including Amazon Channels, Apple TV channels and (soon) the Roku Channel, and is still being offered on an a la carte basis by many pay TV providers. But, there’s a distinct possibility that not many consumers will opt to pay extra for access to Cinemax.

Cinemax is likely safe for the time being on DirecTV and DirecTV Now, given that both of those services are operated by Cinemax’s parent company, AT&T. But even AT&T left Cinemax out of one of its new DirecTV Now service bundles. And, as AT&T prepares its WarnerMedia division to launch a new subscription streaming service, Cinemax has been absent from the conversation.

Details are still scarce about what the WarnerMedia SVOD will look like, but the consensus seems to be that it will center on HBO content, and supplement that with the Warner Bros. film and television library. No mention of Cinemax.

WarnerMedia did not respond to requests for comment about Cinemax’s role in the upcoming streaming service.

At the same time, HBO Now has grown to be one of the biggest U.S. streaming services in terms of subscribers, but Cinemax has not been similarly launched as a standalone app.

None of this is to say that Cinemax is a sinking ship. The channel has steadily built up a well-regarded slate of original series including “Banshee,” “Outcast,” “The Knick,” “Warrior” and the upcoming “Jett.” The service also features movies like “Justice League,” “It” and “Red Sparrow.” That all seems like a significant jump in quality from a few decades ago when Cinemax was known as a destination for softcore pornography. But, Cinemax is still in HBO’s shadow.

Back in 2014, Kary Antholis, former head of miniseries at HBO and head of programming at Cinemax, admitted as much and said that HBO will always be the “big brother.”

“Our goal is to build Cinemax to the point where it’s the preferred second tier in premium television,” Antholis told Quartz.

Since that time HBO has arguably held onto its place as the pre-eminent home for premium television. But, more competition for second place has emerged in that space as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix have all accelerated their original content production and increasingly drawn more praise and prestige for their programming. Apple will soon roll out its own slate of high-profile shows and movies. Cable networks like AMC and FX continue to offer popular scripted content. And Showtime, Starz and (more recently) Epix keep producing quality shows.

With so much going on it’s no wonder that Cinemax has a difficult time wedging itself into the peak TV conversation. But, without a massive hit to snatch the attention of TV viewers, Cinemax may continue to find itself on the outside looking in.

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