HBO Max: Launch date, prices, shows and movies to expect

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HBO Max promises a lot.


Screenshot by CNET

HBO Max, the HBO-anchored streaming service finally announced to be launching May 27, has much in common with its competitors in the streaming wars like Disney Plus and Peacock, not to mention Netflix. Like those, HBO Max will have a sprawling catalog of hit shows and movies, plus a big-budget slate of exclusive originals packed with stars. 

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

HBO Max, from AT&T’s WarnerMedia, is investing billions of dollars in the service, its budgets for original programming and the expensive deals to stream popular reruns like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. 

As HBO Max announced its official launch date Tuesday, it also dropped a new teaser video for the service with the first (very brief) glimpses of the originals that’ll exclusively stream on the service. One snippet showed actress Anna Kendrick in Love Life, an anthology series produced by Kendrick and Paul Feig that follows one character per season through a new romantic relationship each episode. Another seemed to be from The Flight Attendant, a drama series in which a flight attendant wakes up in a hotel room with a dead man.

At launch, the service will stream six so-called Max Originals, including Love Life; the documentary film On the Record, which is probably best known for being controversial enough that Oprah Winfrey and Apple pulled out of it; an underground ballroom dance competition series called Legendary; Craftopia, hosted by YouTuber LaurDIY; new Looney Tunes cartoons; and Sesame Workshop’s The Not Too Late Show with Elmo. (The Flight Attendant is coming later this year, HBO Max said. See more in the section about shows and movies below.)

Down the line, WarnerMedia’s gigantic deal with director and producer J.J. Abrams will produce at least three series for HBO Max: a show set in the Justice League Dark universe; Overlook, a thriller based on Stephen King’s The Shining and set in the Overlook Hotel; and a 1970s crime show called Duster. And WarnerMedia also has big franchises and brands to draw from: the DC universe and Game of Thrones in particular. HBO Max is even making an unscripted Friends reunion special with the original cast.

But the slate of Max Originals is doubtlessly been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

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’ll have only a handful of originals available for its nationwide launch in July. 

HBO Max hasn’t commented much on the impact of the virus yet, but it’s sure to be in the same boat. That Friends reunion special, for example? It’s delayed

HBO Max will cost $15 a month when it rolls out in the US May 27. That compares with $7 a month for Disney Plus, and Peacock will offer a free limited tier with advertising. Some people who already have an HBO subscription will get Max included for free — 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. HBO subscribers through YouTube TV might get a deal. But not every HBO customer gets the automatic upgrade. 

On Tuesday, AT&T released a complex breakdown of all its HBO Max promos. As planned, some will get it at no extra cost, while others qualify for a one-month, three-month or one-year full trial. (It’s confusing.)

And for everyone, HBO Max will add a tier with advertising that’s cheaper, or even possibly free, sometime in the service’s first year. But the company hasn’t provided any firm details.

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. 

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 standalone 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 is $5. 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 (that is, 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 whether 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 Hulu, Amazon Prime Video Channels, Apple 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. 

AT&T is also offering a complicated matrix of promos for HBO Max. Some customers will get it at no extra cost, while others qualify for a one-month, three-month or one-year full trial. Your best shot at figuring out whether you qualify is to check your account or the myAT&T app, but CNET also lists AT&T’s qualification terms for its HBO Max promos

When will HBO Max launch?

HBO Max will launch May 27 in the US. 

After that, HBO Max’s first international expansions will prioritize Latin America 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 focuses on short episodic originals viewable only on phones. Also in April, Peacock launched a “sneak peek” at its service on Comcast; 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. At launch, HBO Max said it will have 10,000 hours of content to stream. 

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 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 and so on. Plus any of the HBO original films, documentaries and specials. 

Movies will be a crucial part of the catalog too. 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 will include (but not necessarily have available at launch):

  • The full sets 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, Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Goonies and many others.
  • Newer hits like Crazy Rich Asians and A Star Is Born.

Ultimately, HBO Max will have more than 18,000 movies, the company has said. 

On top of that, AT&T has been licensing outside hit shows 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. For the most part, original series on HBO Max will drop new episodes on a weekly basis. 

At launch on May 27, the originals will include: 

  • Love Life, the comedy with Kendrick
  • On the Record, the controversial documentary film
  • Legendary, about underground ballroom dance 
  • Craftopia, the YouTuber-hosted craft series
  • New Looney Tunes cartoons
  • The Not Too Late Show with Elmo 

Then over the course of summer and fall, HBO Max will add other originals, including: 

  • The Flight Attendant, starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco based on the novel by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Friends unscripted cast reunion special
  • New original episodes of the DC property Doom Patrol
  • A new season of mystery comedy Search Party
  • Expecting Amy, a three-part docuseries about comedian Amy Schumer’s life on tour creating a standup special during her pregnancy
  • Sci-fi epic Raised by Wolves from director and executive producer Ridley Scott. The 10-episode series focuses on two androids raising human children on a mysterious planet. The show had already wrapped production in South Africa.
  • The adult animated comedy Close Enough, from J.G. Quintel that looks at the surreal life of a millennial family living with roommates
  • Adventure Time: Distant Lands-BMO, which is the first of four specials resurrecting Cartoon Network’s franchise Adventure Time

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 planned to expand Max Originals to a slate of 50 shows. About half are targeted at young adults aged 16 to 34, and the rest will be divided between more adult fare and kids and family content outside the HBO brand. 

Some of the other 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.
  • Projects by J.J. Abrams. Abrams, known for a parade of television and box office hits, signed a megadeal with AT&T and WarnerMedia to make projects for the company. On HBO Max, he’ll help produce a show set in the Justice League Dark universe; Overlook, a thriller based on Stephen King’s The Shining and set in the Overlook Hotel; and a 1970s crime show called Duster. 
  • 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.

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

HBO Max promises a lot.


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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 will be similar to HBO Go and HBO Now but with additional programming. 

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 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?

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