A decade after the streaming revolution began, the seams are appearing and the stitches are beginning to appear.

The recent outcry over HBO Max removing a significant number of series and movie episodes from its platform amounts to unintended consequence #9,789 for an industry upended by digital disruption.

The situation that Warner Bros. Discovery’s work to solve by lightening the load of content should be crystal clear to anyone who’s ever worked in retail sales management. Simply put, HBO Max has an inventory problem. The content long tail theory that has fueled commercial streaming conflicts with the focus on blockbuster hits that has traditionally fueled the entertainment economy.

With the major exception of Netflix, no network or platform in the 75-year history of commercial television has amassed such a wide and deep library of content that is made available for on-demand public viewing as HBO Max has done that in its 27-month run. . And that means no network has had to deal with the real problem of managing the long-term cost of maintaining such massive inventory.

In the world of retail, if a product isn’t selling, at some point it comes off the shelf to make way for something new. This has also long been the case for linear television; if a show doesn’t find an audience, the cancel ax drops. In the past, however, if CBS or NBC ripped off a show, the network didn’t have to keep shelling out coins to make it available on demand. But that has been the norm in the streaming realm.

The bill adds up quickly when residual fee costs for actors, writers, and directors are included — costs that are triggered no matter how many or how many people flag a particular episode of a vintage series. There are also production fees, music license fees, and a myriad of other royalties that come into play. Industry sources say the cost varies widely from title to title, depending on the underlying terms of the deal, but there’s no version to keep a show available to watch on a platform that doesn’t cost at least tens of thousands of dollars. in fees per series per year. For the bottom 30% of HBO Max’s active library, that’s tens of millions of dollars a year.

At a time when Warner Bros. Discovery faces serious financial pressures after the merger, there’s no doubt that easing the load on HBO Max is a natural place to save money. This decision was also aided by the harsh reality that deleted shows have virtually no viewership. In some cases, recently deleted shows had episodes that saw zero views over a 12-month period. There’s no twist on the long tail theory — the sense that niche content that ignites passion and engagement can be as valuable or more valuable than mass hits — that can support an economic case for keep spending to generate zero views.

Netflix is ​​surely grappling with that same pressure as the streamer adjusts to an environment of slowing global subscriber growth. This dynamic prompted Warner Bros. Discovery to act faster to remove content that wasn’t getting any traction. There’s been a lot of talk about HBO Max removing about 200 “Sesame Street” episodes from the platform. But a week later, there are still hundreds of “Sesame Street” episodes left to watch, including the past 12 seasons and a selection of vintage seasons.

If tens of millions of new customers sign up every year, it might be a good idea to keep that quirky drama or quirky comedy on the lineup, because you never know what’s going to be right in Peoria, Istanbul, or Rio de Janeiro. The high-flying promise of a vast archive of content accessible to consumers with a single click (or voice command) has crashed into the harsh reality of Warner Bros.’ overleveraged balance sheet. Discovery. No one can afford to maintain such a big all-you-can-eat buffet for $15 a month.

But media consumers, young and old, have now been trained to expect everything and everything is available somewhere, for a price. The jolt of content inventory reduction push after second-quarter results could spur renewed interest in physical media like books and DVD sets among younger consumers as they absorb the jolt of these real inventory management issues versus the endless promise of cloud storage.

An industry veteran compared the fluctuations in streaming over the past few months to the flurry of lucid analysis of player stats and payback for star baseball players in the early 2000s: “This company is becoming ‘Moneyball’.”

(Pictured: “Sesame Street”)