iPhone Xs with a Indigo and bright red gradient on them and film strips inside of their screens above and below the HBO logo with a fez on the H and an anime eye in the O.

HBO Max Maximizes Cross-Cultural Media

One of the biggest internet stories of 2019 has been the massive brawl between Netflix and several of its up-and-coming competitors. From Disney+ to Apple TV+, many are debating which streaming service could take Netflix down.

Out of all of these new streaming services, HBO Max has the most multicultural content.

From Deadline reporting that the service acquired the rights to future seasons of Doctor Who to Crunchyroll joining the service with their massive anime library according to ComicBook.com, HBO Max is a new example of transnational film distribution’s internet boom.

From Imports to Netflix and Chill

Before we can look at how HBO Max’s transnational content selection compares to its competitors, we should look at the history of transnational film distribution flows.

Transnational media flows are defined by Jenkins et al’s (2013) internet media book, Spreadable Media,as the uneven exchange of media between nations across the globe. This exchange involves each country’s cultural beliefs about foreign content and the level of demand for it.

Have you ever seen the Nightmare on Elm Street movie where Freddy peels and eats a bunch of peoples’ faces off a sausage pizza? That is how traditional media saw its customers before video streaming.

This film might be on HBO Max since it is owned by HBO’s parent company. (Video from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Before the internet let foreign film fans be heard, television companies saw their audiences as a homogeneous layer of cheese baked on a flatbread made of money and Nielsen ratings.

This was due to transnational media flows being built on the imperial belief in one general, dominant culture (Jenkins et al, 2013). As I mentioned in my anime article, these flows forced fans of foreign content to buy expensive imports of it. This changed when Netflix disrupted these traditional flows.

According to Quartz, Netflix’s streaming service debuted in 2007 with foreign films among the lineup. Hacker Noon says Netflix’s strategy of acquiring foreign content for multiple audiences is part of its explosive success, a success that has caused Nielsen to include the service’s viewers in its ratings according to Variety.

At any given moment, your Netflix home page can have shows and movies made in four or more countries. (Screenshot taken from Netflix)

While foreign shows and films had been aired before, Kerry Seagrave wrote in his book, Foreign Films in America, that the logistics of importing and adapting this content for broadcast limited its possible success.

Now that you can cheaply stream video files from companies’ servers, foreign content has a wider audience than ever before. As this content becomes more popular, we largely focus on the success of the foreign companies that made them. However, video streaming’s transnational flow still favor one nation.

The United States of Film

While foreign films and shows enjoy wider publicity with the explosion in streaming, American companies have reaped most of the benefits.

Jenkins et al (2013) said that transnational media flows are uneven because countries differ in their history with media and their international influence. With video streaming, the balance is tilted in America’s favor because it is where most of the industry’s companies are headquartered.

Since DC Universe shows are included in HBO Max, I highly recommend “Doom Patrol” if you subscribe to it. (Video from HBO Max’s YouTube channel)

With HBO Max, they are not buying the rights to stream anime from Japan, but from an American company who bought the rights to stream animated shows and movies from Japan.

BBC is the only foreign company that was directly contacted for their content, but all of the other services merged under the HBO Max banner are either American or owned by HBO’s American parent company, WarnerMedia.

Despite this, HBO Max still has announced more multi-cultural, transnational content than its rising rivals.

For example, let us look into the offerings of Apple TV+, one the services competing with HBO Max.

This is a playlist of all the trailers Apple has released for exclusive shows from their Apple TV+ service. Aside from “The Elephant Queen” and Apple TV+ exclusive shows, no other content has been added to the streaming service. (Video from Apple TV’s YouTube channel)

There are certainly a variety of shows here according to Macworld. A comedy based on Emily Dickinson, a show based on an autobiography of Korean immigrants, and a gentrified Sesame Street.

While these shows all appear to be culturally diverse, all of them are made by American companies for an American-owned streaming service. This means that all of these series are made with American film-making practices and (primarily) American film writing styles.

The full library of films and shows that will be available on Apple TV+ might have more foreign content; Decider says that Apple got the rights to put the hit British documentary The Elephant Queen on their service, so it would not be surprising for them to get the rights to other shows and films.

For right now though, HBO Max still has more transnational-made content than the other streaming services that are on the rise due to its business deals. It also holds this advantage over American film vanguard Disney’s new service as CNET says that the service will focus on its famous film franchises.

Either way, the case is the same: the distribution of foreign or foreign inspired content massively benefits America’s influence over the film industry because it is at least partially filtered through an American corporate lens.


A realistic depiction of foreign film fans discovering the internet for the first time. (Video from MrDeliriaframe’s YouTube channel)

Even with American corporations like Warner Media, Apple, Netflix, and other streaming giants gaining the most out of the distribution of transnational content by controlling its flow, foreign films still benefit from greater publicity than ever before.

The widespread flow of foreign films and shows across the internet is a cultural and market phenomenon that HBO Max seeks to capitalize on more than the other new streaming services. The deals it struck with BBC and Crunchyroll make this clear, but time will tell if they keep the lead.

Ethan McElvaney

A eLearning developer and civic tech designer with several years of digital media experience. I aim to make engaging training for healthcare, civic, and education professionals so they can do their best work. I also like volunteering with Code for America, hiking, and playing action role-playing games.