HBO Max is WarnerMedia's attempt to lay down the gauntlet to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, and its release is rapidly approaching. When it comes to telly boxes and other devices this year, it will feature over 10,000 hours of content at launch, with content from the likes of Cartoon Network, CNN, DC Comics, TNT, Crunchyroll and Sesame Workshop, as well as some stellar HBO originals.
HBO Max, backed by comms giant AT&T, has penned some big scalps to ensure shows over to its service. That includes every episode of the '90s sitcom Friends, The Big Bang Theory, as well as Rick and Morty, the new iteration of Doctor Who, and the complete library of South Park. Speaking of the sitcom that's been on a break since 2004, a Friends reunion now looks like it's very close to becoming a reality.
HBO Max will also boast its own exclusives intended to make viewers of rival services envious, including various original series. But will that be enough for you to pay for yet another streaming service? Here's everything you need to know so you can make an informed decision before the HBO Max release date.
HBO Max release date
HBO Max launches later this year: it'll launch in May 2020. This was revealed at an investor event in October, but we don't yet know the specific day in May we'll be diving into our beloved favourites in HBO's wheelhouse.
HBO Max price: what it'll cost you each month
HBO Max will cost $14.99 (around £11, AU$22) per month. That puts it on the more dearer end of the streaming service spectrum. However, it's also the same price as HBO Now, and HBO Max should offer a lot more entertainment goodness for your hard-earned cash. By comparison, Disney Plus is $6.99 per month, while Netflix's Standard tier is $12.99. HBO Max's subscriber target is 50 million by 2025 – a lot by anyone's standards, but considering HBO had 54 million US subscribers as of 2017, it's really not out of the question.
HBO Max won't replace HBO Go and HBO Now: both services will apparently set to carry on, though HBO Max has been characterized as the "workhorse" of Warner's pay TV efforts. Still, given there's three variations on the platform, below you'll find a breakdown of their differences.
HBO Max vs HBO Go vs HBO Now: what's the difference?
One potential problem facing HBO is the confusion between the different HBO-branded services. Here's a quick explainer. HBO Max, then, is the new direct-to-consumer streaming service that we're focusing on in this article. HBO Now is the existing direct-to-consumer streaming service that costs $14.99 a month.
HBO Go, meanwhile, features the same content as HBO Now - but you can only access it as a bonus with a cable subscription to HBO. In addition, you can access the same HBO content on both services through Amazon Prime Video for $14.99 per month.
When HBO Max launches in May, HBO Now subscribers can switch over to Max for the same monthly price, but only if they're directly subscribed through hbonow.com. If you're subscribed to HBO Now through a third-party, the HBO Max FAQ says to 'stay tuned for more details'. The same notice is used for those subscribed to HBO through a cable or TV provider.
People subscribed to HBO through AT&T-related services, meanwhile, can watch all the HBO Max content they want for no additional cost, too. If you have HBO via AT&T TV or U-Verse TV, that comes with HBO Max. People subscribed to 'premium' AT&T mobile and broadband services will apparently have the offer of bundles with HBO Max 'at no extra charge'.
It's a little complicated to unpick, then, but if you're among the millions already directly subscribed to HBO Now, switching to HBO Max should be nice and simple.
HBO Max devices: how will you be able to stream it?
A list of compatible devices for HBO Max hasn't been revealed yet, and probably won't be until closer to launch. Still, if HBO Now is any indication, it'll hopefully work on the majority of phones, tablets, games consoles, smart TVs, Fire TV and Apple TV, barring any unforeseen issues.
HBO Max app features: downloads and recommendations explained
HBO Max will let you download content for offline viewing. It'll also have a PIN system for parental control, personalized profiles, and brand-based content hubs similar to how Disney Plus categorizes Star Wars and Marvel. You'll also have the option of 'co-viewing' homepages that represent the tastes of multiple people in your home.
If you're sick of Netflix's algorithm-based recommendations, HBO Max will feature picks from "talent and influencers", with short videos accompanying the content they chose. That is a little different from how the other streamers are doing it. As you can see above, that talent includes actors like Bill Hader (Barry) and Regina King (Watchmen), both of which are synonymous with existing HBO shows.
HBO Max: original shows and movies
Original content is the lifeblood of any new streaming service, and HBO Max has a lot in the works, alongside the content coming from HBO itself. There are five DC Comics adaptations in the mix, including Green Lantern, a live-action series from Arrow producer Greg Berlanti.
Strange Adventures comes from Berlanti, too, and it sounds like an anthology show that "will explore close-ended morality tales about the intersecting lives of mortals and superhumans." There's also a three-part animated Aquaman show on the way. Called Aquaman: King of Atlantis, the show will follow the early days of Arthur Curry's rule as king.
Also from DC Comics comes DMZ, a show about a modern-day American civil war adapted by filmmaker Ava DuVernay. HBO Max will also become the new joint home of existing DC Universe show Doom Patrol - that, Titans and the Harley Quinn animated series are examples of how HBO intend for Max and DCU to work in tandem, but "we're still working out what those mechanics are" an HBO exec said at the TCA winter press tour in January 2020. Elizabeth Banks will produce DC Superhero High, imagining life in high school for the comic book icons.
Michael Mann will direct the pilot Tokyo Vice, about American journalist Jake Adelstein's life as a police reporter in the Japanese city, which sounds like its biggest swing at a conversation-starting original – and will star Ansel Elgort of Baby Driver fame.
Dune: The Sisterhood is a spin-off of the upcoming Dune film, with the pilot sharing a director in Denis Villeneuve. Anna Kendrick will also produce a romance anthology called Love Life. Raised by Wolves is a Ridley Scott-produced series about two androids raising a child on another planet, while 80s cult hit Gremlins is coming an animated series too.
College Girls, meanwhile, is a teen show from The Mindy Project's Mindy Kaling. Rap Sh*t is about a Miami-based female rap group trying to get famous. Search Party, a great-but-overlooked TNT adult mystery drama, is moving to HBO Max for its third and fourth seasons. Post-apocalyptic drama Station Eleven is based on the book of the same name. Made For Love is an adaptation of Alissa Nutting's novel, starring Cristin Milioti. Generation is a Lena Dunham-produced show about modern sexuality in a conservative environment. A new version of teen drama Gossip Girl is in the works, with Kristen Bell returning as the titular character in voice only.
At least three original movies are in the works: Superintelligence starring Melissa McCarthy, author film Let Them All Talk from Steven Soderbergh, and legal comedy Bobbie Sue starring Gina Rodriguez. Expect a suite of original reality TV shows and kids' shows, too, including a talk show hosted by Elmo from Sesame Street, where he'll no doubt be asking deeply personal questions of his guests.
And following the news that Audience Network will no longer be a home for original content, raising questions over series like Mr. Mercedes and Loudermilk, but sources say that at least three originals transition over to HBO Max. However, don't expect Cinemax content to come to the service: programming production at the company is to wind down, which leaves series like Jett and Warrior in unknown territory.
HBO Max: shows and movies you'll be able to stream
Hey, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is technically a HBO show now! As are many older favorites. HBO Max will have an enviable backlog of TV shows to binge, so we'll just list some highlights here, even if the timeframe of their respective releases is a bit unclear at this point: South Park, Rick and Morty, The OC, The Big Bang Theory, Adventure Time, The Office UK, Luther, Doctor Who series 1-11, The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Westworld, Barry, Veep... Basically, there's a lot to look forward to if you've paid attention to any TV in the past 20 years.
That's the key thing with HBO Max: if WarnerMedia owns it, that means it's probably coming to HBO Max at some point. New original shows from The CW, like Katy Keene and Batwoman, are coming to HBO Max, though older shows like Riverdale are part of a pre-existing Netflix agreement. Cartoon Network and Adult Swim shows will be part of the offering, too.
And, of course, there's HBO itself, the subscription-based cable network that still makes most of the best TV around. It's been confirmed that all of its original 2020 and 2021 shows will be landing on the service, as well as the brand new House of Dragon Game of Thrones prequel, coming at some point in the future.
Speaking of big HBO shows that could return in a different guise, THP reported in November 2019 that a Friends reunion special was in the works for HBO Max. However, at the Television Critic's Association winter press tour in January 2020, HBO Max content chief said that, while talks are ongoing, "today, unfortunately, it's still a maybe" because "we can't seem to quite get that interest aligned to push the button on it.
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And what about movies? It's looking promising. The Matrix trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, The Conjuring movies, Lego movies and Gremlins movies will all arrive within the service's first year. So too will every Batman and Superman movie from the last 40 years.
Notably, the Harry Potter films won't be on HBO Max – Universal has an exclusive streaming deal on those until 2025, which includes the Fantastic Beasts movies. However, fans will have been heartened to hear Reilly's comments on the subject at the TCA winter press tour: "Those discussions will continue on. At some point, you can’t have our experience without having Harry Potter be a part of it."
HBO Max has another ace up its sleeve: the rights to Studio Ghibli's complete library, including Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Speaking of anime, streaming service Crunchyroll will provide a 'curated' selection of shows for HBO Max, too, which will rotate on a quarterly basis.
That's a lot of different places to draw content from, and you can expect newer Warner movies to make it on there, too. Joker, the billion dollar-grossing Joaquin Phoenix-starring DC film, will be on HBO Max in 2020.
HBO Max could win the streaming wars, if price doesn't slow it down
HBO is a name synonymous with prestige TV, from shows like Oz and The Sopranos through to Game of Thrones and Chernobyl. With HBO Max, it'll likely come to mean something else entirely – but that association is still a massive asset. In the 'Peak TV' age, HBO has more than held its own, producing the likes of Succession and Watchmen and remaining the center of the TV conversation while a streaming arms race occurred around it.
That is what HBO Max is building upon: the best TV of the last two decades, coupled with every major brand Warner can throw at it. Not all streaming services will survive this content war, but HBO Max has a lot in its corner.
That said, HBO Max's content chief doesn't see the current landscape in terms of "streaming wars" at all. During the Television Critic's Association winter press tour (via THP), Kevin Reilly took to the stage to admit that he sees most households subscribing to multiple services, rather than each of them being at war with each other: "These are all going to be different products where each household is going to be piecing it together," Reilly said.
HBO Max probably won't launch in the UK
In October 2019, Warner Bros and European broadcaster Sky renewed their programming deal in the UK, with part of that deal involving co-development of new shows with HBO Max (via Deadline). That means it's extremely unlikely HBO Max is going to launch any time soon in the UK. Indeed, the Game of Thrones spin-off House of Dragon will launch on Sky, just like its predecessor.
The upside for UK subscribers? That subscription to Now TV should still get you all that great HBO content for years to come without you needing to spend anything extra. It's a smaller pond for streaming services in Britain, after all.
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