Digital Media

HBO Max: Launch dates, prices, shows and movies to know

HBO Max promises a lot.

Screenshot by CNET

HBO Max, the HBO-anchored streaming service coming in May, has much in common with many of the competitors emerging in the so-called streaming wars like Disney Plus and PeacockHBO Max, from AT&T’s WarnerMedia, will have a sprawling catalog of hit shows and movies, plus a big-budget slate of exclusive originals packed with big-name stars. 

One of the key differences: HBO Max is the most expensive of any of them. 

HBO Max will cost $15 a month when it rolls out in the US sometime in May. Some people who already have a current HBO subscription will get Max included free — an automatic upgrade is in store for anyone who already pays for HBO through AT&T (HBO’s parent company), the AT&T satellite service DirecTV, or Charter and its Spectrum services.  (Sometime during HBO Max’s first year, the service will add a tier with advertising that’s cheaper, or even possibly free, but the company hasn’t provided any firm details.) That compares with $7 a month for Disney Plus, and Peacock will offer a free limited tier with advertising. 

HBO Max will be the last entrant to arrive in the roughly six-month period referred to as the streaming wars, when tech and entertainment giants are launching their own streaming-video subscriptions to go up against Netflix. With more than 167 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix has dominated the transition to streaming TV. 

AT&T’s WarnerMedia is investing billions of dollars in original programming as well as deals to stream popular reruns like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. HBO Max dropped its first teaser for the service in February, stringing together a collection of clips from shows and movies you’ll be able to watch there. But it didn’t have any glimpses of the new original programming the company will exclusively stream on the service. It’s unclear yet which of these so-called Max Originals are going to be HBO Max’s best shot at a hit like Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian.

WarnerMedia has a lot of franchises and brands to draw from: DC universe and Game of Thrones, just to name a couple. HBO Max is even making an unscripted Friends reunion special with the original cast.

But the coronaviruspandemic is sure to disrupt those hopes. People across the nation are confined to their homes and streaming much more, but the virus and its respiratory disease COVID-19 have shut down television productions globally. New services launching this year are especially hard hit because they simply don’t have as much original programming finished yet. Peacock has said the majority of its original productions are on hold, and it will have only a handful of originals available for its nationwide launch in July. 

HBO Max hasn’t commented much yet, but it is likely n the same boat. That Friend’s reunion special, for example? It’s delayed

How much will HBO Max cost?

HBO Max will be $15 a month at launch. 

Within the first year, the service will expand to include another tier that carries advertising. The company hasn’t specified the price, launch date or catalog limitations on this tier, but it would presumably be cheaper, or free. 

HBO’s current stand-alone streaming service, HBO Now, also costs $15 a month. Though HBO Now will continue to operate, HBO Max will essentially replace it. HBO Now subscribers are welcome to stick with that service, but they’ll essentially be paying the same amount for less content. HBO Max will have all the same shows and movies on HBO Now plus a big catalog of licensed programming and exclusive originals. 

Compared with rival streaming services launching before HBO Max, that pricing may feel steep to many consumers. Disney Plus is $7 a month, and Apple TV Plus will be $5 monthly — and both are offering deals that can cut the price further or providing opportunities for extended free periods lasting up to a year. Apple, for example, is giving away a year’s subscription to anyone who’s purchased an Apple device since early September. And Disney set up a deal with Verizon so any of the carrier’s mobile subscribers get a year free. 

Some people who already have an existing subscription to HBO will be able to unlock HBO Max at no extra cost, but not everyone. Subscribers to HBO Now can upgrade to HBO Max free, and HBO subscribers via AT&T can get it free too (i.e., HBO customers through DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T TV Now, AT&T TV and AT&T wireless users who can add HBO with certain unlimited plans). And through an April deal with Charter, all of Charter’s existing HBO subscribers, including subscribers in its Spectrum Silver and Gold video packages, will automatically be given access to HBO Max for no additional charge.

But it’s unclear if you can get HBO Max included if you get your HBO through another pay-TV provider, whether that’s a traditional provider like Comcast or Dish Network, or an internet-based one like HuluAmazon Prime Video ChannelsApple TV Channels and The Roku Channel. When AT&T announced HBO Max at a three-hour presentation in October, the company said it was still in talks with other pay-TV providers about offering HBO Max to their traditional HBO subscribers. Since then, only the Charter partnership has emerged. 

When will HBO Max launch?

HBO Max will launch in May in the US. The specific date still remains to be set. Many expect this to be late May.

After that, HBO Max’s first international expansions will prioritize Latin American and Europe. Latin America will get HBO Max in 2021, the company has said. 

HBO Max’s US timing will put it near the end of the parade of streaming services launching. After Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus both launched in November, April brought Quibi, a mobile streaming service from Hollywood giant Jeffrey Katzenberg, which will focus on short episodic originals viewable only on phones. Peacock launched a “sneak peek” of its service on Comcast in April too; Peacock’s national launch is set for July 15 (though that date may be pushed up).

Shows and movies: What will I be able to watch on HBO Max?

The HBO Max catalog is all over the map. 

HBO Max will include all the shows and movies on HBO, plus a selection of high-profile licensed content, like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick & Morty and South Park. And it’ll layer exclusive original programming on top of that. Originally, HBO Max planned to have 31 originals in its first year and amp that up to 50 originals in the second year. But those timelines may need to be adjusted because of disruptions from the coronavirus. 

The simplest part of the catalog to understand is HBO itself. HBO Max will include everything on regular HBO, so that means: all the theatrical movies that come and go from the channel; new episodes from all HBO series, like Watchmen, Westworld, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Sesame Street and so forth; and the past seasons of those programs as well as the full HBO back catalog, like Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, The Wire, etc. Plus any of the HBO original films, documentaries and specials. 

On top of that, AT&T has been licensing outside hits to pad HBO Max’s catalog. The most most eye-popping have been:

  • A reported $425 million deal to win the rights to all episodes of ’90s hit Friends, which has left Netflix to start streaming on HBO Max at launch.
  • A reported $500 million deal to stream The Big Bang Theory.

It’s also secured deals for past seasons of Rick and Morty; 11 of the most recent seasons of Doctor Who, plus another three to come; CW dramas like Pretty Little Liars, Batwoman and Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene as well as more upcoming CW series; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; and The West Wing; among many others. 

Animated satire South Park will not only contribute its full back catalog to HBO Max but also stream new episodes. The latest episodes of South Park will stream on HBO Max 24 hours after they air on Comedy Central for the next three seasons.

And HBO Max will have exclusive original shows and movies, called Max Originals. 

Original series will release episodes on a weekly basis for the most part. HBO Max originally planned to have 31 original series in its launch year (which totals 69 series when combined with HBO content). Then in 2021, HBO Max will expand Max Originals to a slate of 50 shows. About half the originals are targeted at young adults aged 16 to 34 years old, and the rest will be divided between more adult fare and kids-and-family content outside the HBO brand. 

Some of the highlights of the originals set for HBO Max include: 

  • New DC titles. A secretive Green Lantern series that producer Greg Berlanti (a young-adult TV guru behind Riverdale and Arrow) says will travel to space and “promises to be our biggest DC show ever made.” Strange Adventures, a one-hour drama anthology series also produced by Berlanti that explores the intersecting lives of mortals and superhumans. DC Super Hero High will be a half-hour comedy from Elizabeth Banks, the producer and actress known for the Hunger Games films and 30 Rock, that’ll focus on a group of adolescent students at a boarding school for “gifted” kids.
  • A sci-fi epic from Ridley Scott. The famed filmmaker behind Blade RunnerAlien and The Martian is developing a 10-episode series called Raised by Wolves, which focuses on two androids raising human children on a mysterious planet. “As the burgeoning colony of humans threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task,” according to the company. The show has wrapped production in South Africa.
  • Projects by J.J. Abrams. Abrams, known for a parade of television and box office hits, signed a mega-deal with AT&T and WarnerMedia to make projects for the company, including unspecified programming for HBO Max. 
  • A half-hour comedy from actress-producer Issa Rae. Rae’s Rap Sh*t explores the music business in Miami through the eyes of three women: an upstart hip-hop duo and their hustling manager.
  • A half-hour comedy from actress/producer Mindy Kaling. College Girls (a working title) tracks three 18-year-old freshman roommates at Evermore College in Vermont. 
  • The Boondocks animated series is getting “two reimagined seasons” along with a 50-minute special originally planned for fall 2020. 
  • A new Jellystone animated series with the classic Hanna-Barbera characters from Warner Bros. Animation. 
  • New animated series from Cartoon Network Studios called The Fungies and Tig N’Seek, as well as a hybrid live-action/animated comedy, Tooned Out, from Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis.
  • Comedy specials from Conan O’Brien and the team behind his TBS show. They’ll be developing five stand-up specials for HBO Max: O’Brien will host two specials that feature short sets from multiple up-and-coming comics and curate hour-long sets from three comedians. That slate will join another one-hour special from comedian James Veitch.

The service will have a smaller slate of original films, between five and 10 per year according to the original plan. Early highlights on the original movie slate include: 

  • A two-picture deal with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. 
  • A documentary about Anthony Bourdain.
  • A four-picture deal with Berlanti, including Unpregnant, about two teenage girls who go on a road trip to New Mexico after one finds out she’s pregnant, based on the young adult novel by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan.
  • Super Intelligence, a comedy starring Melissa McCarthy about a woman whose romantic life is selected for observation by artificial intelligence.
  • Bobbie Sue, a comedy feature starring Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez as an up-and-coming young lawyer who joins a stuffy Boston law firm.

Licensed movies will be a crucial part of the catalog too. HBO Max will have more than 18,000 movies, and any movie that’s available to watch on the traditional HBO network will also be available to stream on HBO Max. Highlights of the HBO Max film catalog include:

  • The full set of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the Matrix trilogies.
  • The Lego movies.
  • DC films like Joker, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Shazam, Aquaman and every Batman and Superman movie of the last 40 years.
  • Studio Ghibli anime films that have never been released for streaming in the US before.
  • Classic movies like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Shining, A Star is Born, Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey and many others.
  • Newer hits like Crazy Rich Asians.

CNET has a comprehensive list of all the shows and movies set for HBO Max so far. 

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What devices can stream HBO Max?

HBO said the Max service will be available on a “very wide array of devices,” including phones, tablets, the web, connected TVs and game consoles. 

But the company has yet to specify which particular devices will support the service. 

How does HBO Max fit in with HBO Go and HBO Now?

HBO Max is will be similar to HBO Go and HBO Now but with additional programming that you can only get with Max. 

Generally speaking, HBO Now and HBO Go are nearly the same product. The main difference is who uses them: Anyone can sign up for HBO Now for $15 a month, while HBO Go is the app for people who already have an HBO subscription through a live-TV provider like cable or satellite. Both HBO Now and HBO Go stream all the programming available on WarnerMedia’s traditional HBO network. 

People who already have HBO Now can switch over to HBO Max for no additional cost. For HBO Go users, it’s more complicated. HBO Go is unlocked by a pay-TV subscription, and HBO Max won’t unlock for all pay-TV customers. For now, only people who pay for HBO through an AT&T, DirecTV or Charter service can get HBO Max included with their current subscription. (Pop back up to our “How much will HBO Max cost?” section for full details.) Unless WarnerMedia can strike more deals, everyone else who currently pays for HBO will still need to pay an extra $15 a month if they want HBO Max too. 

How is HBO Max different than all the rest of AT&T’s streaming services?

Yep, AT&T has even more streaming services. 

AT&T TV is similar to one of a cable or satellite pay-TV service, except it’s delivered over the internet. AT&T TV includes live channels, DVR and video on demand that cable subscribers are familiar with, plus the ability to stream from apps like Netflix and Pandora. To watch on TVs, AT&T TV has its own proprietary streaming box that AT&T requires you use, and subscribers can watch everything on mobile devices with an app too. Right now, it starts at $50 a month for the cheapest tier’s first year; the price jumps to $93 a month in the second year. 

AT&T TV Now, on the other hand, is a live-TV streaming service along the lines of Sling TV or YouTube TV.  If you were familiar with DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now is just the renamed version of that service. Rather than requiring a specific box, it lets subscribers stream live channels to Rokus, Apple TVs, Fire TVs and more, and the channels are available on a mobile app as well. It also has a cloud DVR. Services like this are sometimes called skinny-bundle streaming services, but AT&T TV Now’s cheapest package isn’t particularly skinny — $55 a month for more than 45 live channels (not including HBO). Still, it isn’t quite as robust as AT&T TV, which is meant to replicate the giant cable packages of traditional TV. 

Finally, AT&T Watch TV is closer to a traditional skinny bundle. It offers more than 35 live channels, including AT&T-owned TBS, TNT and CNN. AT&T Watch TV is a free perk included with certain unlimited AT&T wireless data plans, but anyone can sign up for it for $15 a month. It was designed as a mobile-first service, but you can stream AT&T Watch TV to televisions with a few boxes, including Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but others aren’t supported, like Roku boxes.

Simple, right?

Originally published Oct. 28 and updated as new information is revealed. 

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