When AT&T agreed to pay $108.7 billion to acquire Time Warner (not the cable company), the telecom giant essentially became a media company. Time Warner was the parent company to a boatload of properties including Turner Broadcasting, which owned CNN, Cartoon Network, HLN, TBS, TNT, TCM, and TruTV—even the sports website Bleacher Report.
The deal also landed them HBO and Warner Bros., the studio behind DC Entertainment. And that deal was separate from AT&T's buyout of Otter Media, an OTT platform with Crunchyroll and Rooster Teeth under its umbrella.
So yeah, AT&T owns a lot of content.
Enter HBO Max, a standalone streaming service that aims to compete with the likes of Apple, Amazon, Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix.
What is HBO Max?
After the merger, AT&T rebranded Time Warner as WarnerMedia to steer away from any image and confusion issues with Time Warner the cable company, who is also in the midst of a brand change to Spectrum after being bought by Charter Communications.
Ironically, the HBO Max name is stirring up its own confusion.
HBO Max isn't HBO, but rather the name that was chosen because of the premium cable network's notoriety. When the stand-alone streaming service launches on May 27th, it not only will carry HBO's entire catalog but curated content from across WarnerMedia's networks, as well as dozens of original programs.
What Can You Stream?
The WarnerMedia execs leading the venture—Sarah Aubrey, Bob Greenblatt, and Kevin Reilly—didn't want the initial launch to bombard subscribers with hundreds of titles.
Among those handpicked are Friends, Doctor Who, Rick & Morty, Sesame Street, and exclusives like House of Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel, and a reboot of classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Over 30 original programs have been slated for its first year, though some of those productions have been delayed because of the pandemic, including the Friends reunion.
So what else will be showing up?
J.J. Abrams landed an overall deal, there will be a Ridley Scott sci-fi series dubbed Raised by Wolves, a Dune series, a Grease reboot, a new Issa Rae comedy called Rap Sh*t, Mindy Kaling's College Girls, a new doc on Anthony Bourdain, as well Steven Soderbergh's film Let Them All Talk.
HBO Max said in a tweet that every live-action DC film made in the last decade "will be available within the first year of launch, (plus) every Superman and Batman movie from the last 40 years."
Carla Gugino in Jett
What's noticeably missing from the slate is Cinemax content. Shows like Jett, The Knick, and Warrior won't make the jump. In fact, the premium channel has abandoned original programming altogether, making its fate somewhat unclear. Michael Quigley, executive vice president of content acquisitions for HBO Max, told The Wrap that Cinemax original content won't be on the streaming service. However, he said the channel won't disappear like the Audience Network.
AT&T might be playing the long game. Remember when FedEx bought Kinkos? Then dropped the Kinkos name for FedEx Office. AT&T might be doing the same. Initially, the streaming service will launch as HBO Max, then once it's established, it may drop the HBO moniker and stick with "Max." They are already referring to the original slate as "Max Originals," but the thought is only speculation.
As for Cinemax, its doors will probably close once every deal has been squeezed. There are also rumors that streaming platform DC Universe, which is home to Harley Quinn and Titans, might shut down. This would be awful for fans if the programming doesn't find a home on HBO Max. If WarnerMedia's plan is to put all of its streaming content under one roof, the move makes sense. One login for everything.
What Will It Cost?
The standalone streaming service will cost $14.99 per month, but the tricky part lies with existing customers. If you are already an HBO, AT&T, or DirectTV subscriber, you may or may not get it for free.
HBO subscribers via AT&T or DirectTV
If you have AT&T or DirectTV service and subscribe to HBO, HBO Max will come at no extra cost. The services that scoop it up for free include:
- DirectTV Premier
- DirectTV LO Maximo
- U400 and U450 TV
- AT&T TV NOW Max
- AT&T TV Max
- AT&T Unlimited Elite wireless plan
- AT&T Internet 1000
Some AT&T customers will receive a free monthly trial of HBO Max.
- 12 months free
- New AT&T TV Choice, Xtra or Ultimate, and Óptimo Más customers
- New DirecTV Choice, Xtra, Ultimate, Más Ultra or Óptimo Más package customers
- 3 months free
- Existing customers with AT&T or DirectTV packages excluding DirecTV Family, U-Family, U-Basic, and AT&T TV Now Plus
- 1 month free
- New and existing AT&T internet plans can sign up for a free trial
- New and existing wireless customers including AT&T Unlimited Extra, AT&T Unlimited Starter, and AT&T Mobile Share plans
HBO subscribers via cable provider or streaming service
If the cable provider or streaming service has a deal with WarnerMedia, HBO Max will be free. This includes those subscribed to HBO via Spectrum, YouTube, Google, and Hulu. If the provider doesn't have a deal with WarnerMedia, you may have to subscribe to HBO Max separately. This includes companies like Amazon, Comcast, Dish, and Xfinity. WarnerMedia is currently working out deals with additional distribution partners, so this may change soon.
HBO Now subscribers
HBO Now (hbonow.com) subscribers who are billed directly by HBO will be upgraded to HBO Max for free. Additionally, HBO Now subscribers billed through Apple or Google Play will also get access to HBO Max. If you subscribe to HBO Now through a third-party service like Amazon Prime Video Channels or Roku, you may not be upgraded. To find out how to view or change your HBO Now subscription, jump here.
Is HBO Max Worth It?
If you pay for HBO Now, the switch is a cinch. HBO Max is the same price (unless you're getting a deal). You get everything on HBO, plus a ton more. The same for HBO subscribers whose cable and streaming providers have a deal with WarnerMedia. It's going to be free, and hopefully, it stays that way.
For those outside the box, it's a matter of dollar and cents. Do you want to pay $14.99 for the service? Chord cutting is nothing new. Audiences have opted for on-demand alternatives like Netflix and Hulu or nothing at all. The problem is the cost can add up when you start to pay for multiple streaming services. Some argue that the price outweighs watching commercials.
Current subscribers looking to save could cancel their current HBO or HBO Now accounts and pre-order HBO Max. There's a promotional period of $11.99 per month for the first year that saves $36. But doing so would require watching it though a standalone version of the app.
If you're not sure if your cable provider has a deal with WarnerMedia, you can call them directly or wait until May 27. You'll know then.
It's also unconfirmed if HBO Max will be offering a free trial period similar to Netflix or Disney+ for those outside AT&T services. When launched, HBO Max will be available to stream on phones, tablets, Mac and PC browsers, streaming media players, as well as game consoles.
What do you think of the HBO Max? Will the new streaming service be worth the price of admission?
Feature Image: Antonio Guillem/No Film School meme