Late last month, animators with thought-to-be steady jobs were met with an online, public announcement that their shows had been canceled. HBO Max announced it would no longer be hosting a number of programs on its platform, the result of merging HBO Max and Discovery+ into one streaming conglomerate. The Warner Bros. and HBO Max merger is reportedly $55 billion in debt; canceling these shows, along with the recent heavy staff layoffs at HBO Max, would go toward saving costs, though there has been no official statement from Warner Bros. regarding their reasoning.
That list of canceled shows included Warner Bros.- and Discovery-owned content originally broadcast on cable, as well as cartoons specifically created for the platform. Many of these shows were animated. The rest of the list included mostly media directed at children, like 200 episodes of Sesame Street. When speaking to CNN, Julia Alexander, director of strategy at Parrot Analytics, explained that HBO Max was leaning away from children’s content and instead focusing on their adult programs. This is just the latest in a long line of blows to the animation industry, showing time and time again that, in the opinion of the artists, broadcasting companies do not care about them.
The shows were pulled at varying stages of production. Infinity Train was dropped after the completion of its entire run, Summer Camp Island while new episodes were still airing on Cartoon Network and J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves’s Batman: The Caped Crusader while it was far along in production. Going a step further, some shows’ entire online presences were wiped, including the aforementioned Infinity Train, as well as Mao Mao: Heroes Pure of Heart. All of their official YouTube videos and tweets were deleted without warning.
Creators were understandably upset, not only with the HBO Max announcement but also with its abruptness. Summer Camp Island creator Julia Pott tweeted, “37 teams of artists … found out online that their shows were being stripped from HBO MAX and for some, episodes we worked on for two years during a pandemic would never be released. @discoveryplus has no respect for artists.” Pott’s tweet claims that artists were not informed of potentially losing their jobs until the wide public announcement.
While the mere cancellation is devastating to the many artists working on these shows, it also emphasizes an issue concerning the entire digital entertainment industry: Without physical media, how can you guarantee that your show will remain accessible? How can you be certain that your creation will still be on that online platform for years or decades to come?
As of now, animation culture has come to rely on pirating as a digital archive. Even creators themselves pirate. Dana Terrace, creator of The Owl House, tweeted a screenshot of the show with a pirating website’s watermark in the corner. She confirmed this in a now-deleted tweet, adding, “I don’t have cable either.” Levon Jihanian, art director, commented on this subject, tweeting in reference to the deletion of his show, Tig N’ Seek, “Like, yeah. I can go on a pirate streaming web site to watch episodes, but my kids can’t. I made this for them.”
Despite its history of critical acclaim and the success of companies like Disney, animation continues to be treated as a low form of art, entertainment solely for children. And while this is not the case, the current state of entertainment certainly groups animation and children together. Regardless, the art form is at risk of falling to the wayside in the streaming era, leaving audiences to wonder what genre is up next on the chopping block.