In the last several months, major corporations — Apple and Disney — have launched new OTT (over the top) services. Peacock (I know, weird name) from NBCUniversal and an untitled service from ViacomCBS is on the way in the coming months. But the next streaming service is called HBO Max.
Who is behind HBO Max?
WarnerMedia — whose parent company is AT&T as of 2018 — is behind HBO Max. Shortly after the acquisition two years ago, they announced plans for a streaming service which would offer a large selection of entertainment. WarnerMedia’s subsidiaries include CNN, HBO, TBS, TNT, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Warner Bros., The CW, New Line Cinema, and more. Hence why their slogan is: “Where HBO meets so much more.”
When will HBO Max launch and what is its price? How can I access it?
HBO Max will launch a week from today on Wednesday, May 27, and its standard price is $14.99/month. There is a limited time, small discount: between now and May 27 at 2:59 am ET/11:59 pm PT, subscriptions to HBO Max are available at a discounted price of $11.99/month for a full year. People who already subscribe to HBO through AT&T — about 10 million people — will receive HBO Max for free for one year. In addition, those who already subscribe to HBO Now (their current, HBO only streaming service) through HBO or Apple will be able to upgrade to the new streamer at no additional cost. HBO Max will have an app on all Google and Android devices and platforms. The streamer also secured a deal with Apple which will allow HBO Max to be available on Apple devices and integrated with the Apple TV app on iPhones, iPads, the iPod touch and Apple TVs. While talks have apparently stalled with Amazon Fire TVs, WarnerMedia is expected to reach an agreement with Roku but the main unresolved issue seems to be how big a cut of subscription fees Roku will take. HBO Max agreed to a distribution deal with Hulu which will allow new and existing Hulu subscribers to subscribe to HBO Max directly through Hulu for $15 per month. Under a new agreement with YouTube TV, it will be added to YouTube’s OTT service on its launch date. Customers who currently subscribe to HBO through Charter will automatically get access to HBO Max for no additional charge, “and with no action required other than signing into the HBO Max app,” according to a press release by WarnerMedia. The last distribution deal as of publication time was made with several cable providers and video game platforms including Altice USA, Cox Communications, Microsoft Xbox, Samsung, Sony PlayStation, Verizon and the National Cable Television Cooperative. The bottomline is AT&T is trying to make it as accessible as possible to have HBO Max.
What are some of HBO Max’s features?
HBO Max will allow subscribers to follow celebrities’ pages in the app where they list their recommendations. This seems like a middle finger to Netflix’s algorithm-based approach to suggesting programming. Subscribers may have multiple profiles — just like on Netflix and Hulu — and a PIN can be used for parental controls. HBO Max will also have brand-based hubs (pictured above), just like Disney Plus has for Star Wars and Marvel. It will also offer a podcast on its app—likely companion podcasts for some of their shows, such as a companion podcast HBO already had for the limited series Chernobyl and The Plot Against America. Eventually, but not at launch, customers of HBO Max may watch content together and chat about it via a partnership with Scener. Scener is a social video startup, which allows for remote co-viewing (pictured below) of Netflix and HBO programming. It calls itself a “virtual movie theater.”
What original films or stand-up specials will it offer?
Perhaps the most notable film is a Steven Soderbergh film called Let Them Talk about an author (Meryl Streep) who goes on a trip with her friends and nephew (Lucas Hedges) to reflect on life. A comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, about a woman who gets selected by AI for observation, is also slated to come in the near future. On the Record, a documentary about the sexual assault and harassment allegations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, will be available on day one. In the next few years, the OTT service will feature five stand-up specials produced by Team Coco, Conan O’Brien’s production company. O’Brien will host two of the five. His late night show Conan is on TBS, which is owned by WarnerMedia. Tracy Morgan — popular comic actor and co-star of 30 Rock — will also eventually do a stand-up special for HBO Max.
Which films will HBO Max have to offer?
It touts having over 700 movies at launch and 2,000 films within its first year. Some notable recent titles at launch include Crazy Rich Asians, A Star is Born, Joker, and Aquaman. Superhero films will be a major aspect (note the DC “hub” in one of the photos above) of HBO Max. Every DC film in the last decade, in addition to every Batman and Superman movie from the last 40 years, will be on the service. Beloved films available include Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix films, The Goonies, When Harry Met Sally, Good Will Hunting, The Lord of the Rings franchise, Citizen Kane, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Singin’ in the Rain, and Gremlins. It will also have Studio Ghibli anime films that have never been released for streaming in the U.S. before.
What TV shows will HBO Max have to offer?
Besides almost all of HBO’s large selection of original programming, it will have older re-watchable TV shows—most notably Friends, which has not streamed anywhere since it came off of Netflix beginning in January. In addition to all ten seasons of the popular NBC sitcom, the much anticipated Friends reunion special will come eventually, but production on that was postponed due to the novel coronavirus. The new service will also have every season of The Big Bang Theory, which was the most watched sitcom during the 2010s. Other popular TV shows it will have at its launch include every season of Doctor Who, Rick and Morty, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The O.C., Pretty Little Liars, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Within a few months of its launch it will also have the entire libraries of South Park — costing over $500 million in a bidding war with Hulu — Gossip Girl, The West Wing, and more. In addition, new episodes of South Park will stream on HBO Max 24 hours after they air on Comedy Central for the next three seasons.
Will it release all episodes at once like Netflix or debut them weekly?
It seems like it will sort of be a hybrid. Most HBO Max Originals will provide the first three episodes of a show the day it premieres, then will drop one episode per week for the remainder of a season.
What new television will it have?
On the day it launches, the new streamer will have an Anna Kendrick led romantic comedy series called Love Life. The Flight Attendant, with Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco, is billed as a thriller. Another notable series is called Tokyo Vice, based on a memoir about an American journalist’s (Ansel Elgort) time spent covering organized crime for one of Japan’s largest newspapers. Legendary, which they likely hope will appeal to young people and the LGBTQ community, is an underground ballroom show in which voguing teams must compete in balls and showcase fashion in order to achieve “legendary” status. That reality/competition show will debut on day one. They will have a new Elmo show called The Not too Late Show with Elmo, in hopes of attracting families and young kids. In addition, season 51 of Sesame Street will air exclusively on HBO Max later in 2020. New episodes from recent seasons will eventually air on PBS For the first time in the iconic children’s show history, its entire 50-year catalog of more than 4,500 episodes will be available in one place. In an attempt to draw teen viewers, they will also have a program called Craftopia. It is a crafting competition show featuring 9 to 15-year old contestants, hosted by YouTube influencer Lauren Riihimak, who has almost 9 million subscribers. HBO Max will have original episodes of Looney Tunes cartoons, which will be several minute long shorts of the classic cartoon. In the coming months and years, they will debut a slew of live action DC Comics shows by Greg Berlanti — who is behind several popular superhero shows on The CW — including Green Lantern. There are plans for superhero shows by J.J. Abrams as well.
Does HBO Max have a strategy?
Well, probably. A month ago, Netflix reported its earnings and they surpassed expectations, bringing in nearly 16 million new subscribers. They now have 182 million subscribers globally, a huge lead over their competitors because of how long they have been in the game and because they have so much content constantly coming out in many countries. Disney+ is also off to a strong start since debuting last fall, announcing it has 50 million subscribers worldwide in the first five months. In the immediate future, HBO Max is probably not looking to attract many people with new content — except for maybe Sesame Street and Craftopia. HBO Max initially said they would have 50 original titles available by 2021 though that almost certainly has changed due to the coronavirus. What they are hoping appeals to a critical mass of people is Friends, South Park, Gossip Girl, The Big Bang Theory, as well as old and current HBO programming. Similarly to Disney Plus and Netflix, it likely wants to be everything to everybody. Think about it like this: a household could watch Westworld, old episodes of Sex and the City, Friends, or Crazy Rich Asians and then catch new episodes of Sesame Street or Craftopia with their kids. In summer 2019, former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said HBO Max’s intention is to eventually have live sports and news programming. This makes a ton of sense because WarnerMedia’s subsidiaries include CNN, TBS, and TNT (the latter two air baseball games and college basketball games.) John Stankey, AT&T’s current CEO, said HBO Max’s goal by 2025 is to have 50 million U.S. subscribers and 75 to 90 million subscribers.
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