Recently, merging powerhouses WarnerMedia and Discovery announced the new company’s name, Warner Bros. Discovery. With this name, the holding company has signaled an intention to remain just that: a holding company. Unlike Netflix and Disney, whose “household” brand names define both corporation and platform, Warner Bros. Discovery is unlikely to occupy so singular an idea in our hearts and minds.
It matters, because, amid this ever-evolving media landscape, the role of the curator at the center is all the more important.
Our shows have become brands. They proliferate into franchises from “Real Housewives” to “Star Wars,” watched on networks that are brands of their own, delivering content around niche interests. (think HGTV and PBS Kids). Then those networks are distributed across platforms, some exclusively, others ubiquitously. So when my son waffles between “Wild Kratts” and “Paw Patrol,” I’ve internalized a Rosetta Stone of where to find each (Amazon Prime or Paramount+?) – and where I’ve paid for them already.
For better or worse, the media conglomerates that own e content play an ever-growing importance in the way we find and watch it. We are all being trained to learn the terrain of corporations, their platforms, their platforms’ platforms, and all the content nested throughout. If I remember that ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon – and Paramount+ – that might just be my best bet for tracking down “Paw Patrol.”
Mergers can be a threat to consumer empowerment and a reduction of choice. But there’s one space where an abundance of choice is almost…too empowering. With Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime continuing to expand and accumulate rights to more and more studio catalogues, simplicity becomes a key feature: we have fewer, more meaningful brands to navigate, and fewer concentric platforms to memorize.
It’s easiest of all when an intuitive thread can be traced from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” to Disney+ to Disney Inc. Sure, I still need to learn that Disney owns ESPN and Marvel and Star Wars, but I’d rather learn that of a brand I know and love, with a POV and a purpose, than of a faceless corporate entity. The winners of the future will embrace the power of a corporate brand that can transcend the content they deliver and stand for something bigger and more deeply valued.
In choosing Warner Bros. Discovery, the companies have missed that opportunity to give greater meaning to the company that ultimately dictates where we find Shark Week. What if they had embraced HBO, for instance, as the corporate and platform brand, taking a layer out of the brand equation? It would have required a much heavier near-term lift, teaching the world that the home of “Band of Brothers” now also houses “Property Brothers.” But it would’ve kick-started consumer recognition of a more meaningful brand to rival Disney and Amazon.
Instead, WBDiscovery (as it will inevitably be known) goes the way of ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal: merged-entity names that distance the viewing experience from the behind-the-scenes engine that drives it all.
So, while my Rosetta Stone is no less complicated, there’s always the potential for future simplicity, or bringing it all together under a platform like HBO Max. In the meantime, finding “House Hunters” may continue to take a “True Detective.”