The latest competitor in the streaming wars has almost arrived, and based on content alone, it enters the game a major player. What exactly is HBO Max, how does it differ from the existing HBO streaming platforms, and how does it compare to the other major streamers? Those are some of the questions we'll try to answer while you decide whether to subscribe.
The name HBO Max implies that it's a streaming service for content from HBO. That much is accurate. However, HBO already has a couple of online streaming platforms: HBO Go (the streaming app for viewers who subscribe to HBO as part of a cable TV package) and HBO Now (the one for those who've cut the cable cord and only use streaming). At least for the time being, those aren't going away. That will leave three streaming apps with "HBO" in the name.
What you might not glean from the name is that HBO Max is intended to be a consolidated online portal for content from corporate parent WarnerMedia, which owns the vast Warner Bros TV and movie archive, along with a cadre of other cable channels, including Cinemax, TBS, Adult Swim, TNT and CNN. The company also owns DC Comics, Looney Tunes, and first-run rights to Sesame Street.
HBO Max will carry current HBO original programs like Westworld and back catalog like Game of Thrones, plus decades of past movies and TV shows from the expansive Warner catalog. Notably, it will be the exclusive streaming home for all ten seasons of Friends, which was recently pulled from Netflix. While a 20-year-old sitcom that's been in constant rotation on cable and syndication for years may not sound like a big deal, the series was the second most-watched show on Netflix, and has a huge following of both nostalgic Gen-Xers and younger Millennials who tune in wherever it airs.
Other Warner properties you'll find on HBO Max include The Big Bang Theory, Doctor Who, Sesame Street, classic films like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, and blockbuster franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, Batman and The Matrix.
Not included at launch are any of the Harry Potter movies or their Fantastic Beasts spinoffs. The TV and digital rights to that franchise are owned through 2025 by NBCUniversal, which may plan to stream them on its Peacock platform. Also apparently missing will be most content from Cinemax, which recently ceased producing original programming altogether. Past Cinemax originals such as Banshee and The Knick will not appear on HBO Max, but rather will stream on YouTube TV.
The situation with Warner-owned DC Comics is complicated. Theatrical blockbusters from the DC Extended Universe franchise such as Wonder Woman and Joker will be on HBO Max, but DC television properties from the Arrowerse (The Flash, Supergirl, etc.) will stream on The CW app during the broadcast season and on Netflix after each season ends. The standalone DC Universe subscription platform will continue to exist, but at least some of its original programming will overlap with HBO Max, and the upcoming Green Lantern series will appear exclusively on HBO Max along with other in-development DC shows.
HBO Max says it has over 30 original series, called "Max Originals," in the pipeline for 2020. The service is set to launch with six originals (one documentary film and five series). Each of the series will drop new episodes on a weekly schedule, rather than the full season releases you'll find on Netflix and Amazon Prime. The launch titles are:
Love Life, a romantic comedy series from Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) that follows a different person's quest for love each season. Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) stars in the ten-episode first season. Watch the trailer
Legendary, an unscripted series that pits real-life voguing teams (aka "houses") against each other. MC Dashaun Wesley and DJ MikeQ head up the cast alongside celebrity judges Jameela Jamil, Law Roach, Leiomy Maldonado and Megan Thee Stallion. Watch the trailer
On the Record, the documentary that first premiered earlier this year at Sundance focusing on sexual assualt accusations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Watch the trailer
Looney Tunes Cartoons, an all new series featuring the Warner Bros. characters in their classic parings (ie: Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, Sylvester and Tweety Bird, etc.), Watch the trailer
Craftopia, a kids crafting competition hosted by Youtuber LaurDIY. Watch the trailer
The Not Too Late Show with Elmo, which stars the lovable red monster alongside sidekick Cookie Monster as they send up with late night talk shows, complete with celebrity guests. Watch the trailer
Coming to the service at later dates are the aforementioned Green Lantern and further superhero spinoffs DC Superhero High and Justice League Dark. Other programs based on familiar properties include a Gossip Girl reboot, the musical Grease: Rydell High, and a tie-in with the upcoming feature film remake of Dune called Dune: The Sisterhood.
In the category of original animation will be new Yogi Bear vehicle Jellystone!, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, the sequel series Adventure Time: Distant Lands, and a reboot of The Boondocks.
Originally planned as a theatrical release, the Melissa McCarthy comedy Superintelligence will instead debut as an original movie on HBO Max. Also buzzworthy is the thriller series The Flight Attendant starring Kaley Cuoco.
Unfortunately, the much-hyped Friends cast reunion special that was intended to stream on the platform's launch day has been postponed until at least late summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The base subscription price for HBO Max will be $14.99 per month. This puts it on the high end for streaming services, falling between the "Standard" high-definition tier at Netflix for $12.99/month and the "Premium" 4K Ultra HD tier for $15.99/month. Other comparably priced competitors include Amazon Prime at $12.99/month, Hulu's ad-free package at $11.99/month, Showtime at $11/month, and CBS All Access at $9.99/month. The price is significantly higher than Disney+ ($6.99/month) and Apple TV+ ($4.99/month).
The $14.99 price matches the current rate for a subscription to HBO Now. Existing HBO Now subscribers who are billed directly through HBO, through Apple or Google Pay, or through HBO Now gift cards will automatically qualify for HBO Max at no additional cost. Given that HBO Max effectively makes HBO Now redundant, one might assume that the company will eventually phase out HBO Now entirely. If so, those plans have not yet been revealed.
Subscribers who currently get HBO through AT&T TV, AT&T U-Verse, DirecTV, Hulu, or Spectrum will also qualify for access to HBO Max at launch at no additional cost. More partners may be added later, but presently, HBO subscribers from other providers will not be extended the same courtesy and must subscribe to HBO Max separately.
Assuming you don't qualify for any of the above criteria, HBO Max is offering a limited time preorder discount of $11.99/month for the first year if you sign up before launch. After the first 12 months, the rate will automatically increase to $14.99/month.
The official launch date for HBO Max is Wednesday May 27, 2020. The app should be available at that time on popular streaming devices such as Apple TV, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Android, and iOS. Last-minute negotiations with Roku are still ongoing at the time of this writing. Unfortunately, it appears that talks with Amazon Fire TV have failed. However, subscriptions will be available through Hulu and YouTube TV.
It is not currently known whether HBO Max will support streaming at 4K Ultra HD resolution with High Dynamic Range video as major competitors Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ do.
Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.
TOPICS: HBO Max, Cinemax, HBO, Adventure Time, The Big Bang Theory, The Boondocks, Craftopia, Doctor Who, Dune: The Sisterhood, The Flight Attendant, Friends, Game of Thrones, Gossip Girl (2021 Series), Green Lantern, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, Legendary, Looney Tunes Cartoons, Love Life, The Not Too Late Show With Elmo, On the Record, Sesame Street, Westworld, Warner Bros., WarnerMedia