WarnerMedia's $4 billion bet to compete with the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney is so much more than HBO, even though "HBO" is in its name. "Does it even make sense to use HBO as a starting point?" asks Alison Herman. "After all, HBO Max is meant to showcase the full firepower of WarnerMedia, of which HBO is just a single part. More than that, it’s a part that’s spent decades carefully building a reputation on curation, selectiveness, and a general air of premium hauteur—precisely the opposite of Max’s shock-and-awe approach, which uses sheer volume as a cornerstone of its sales pitch." For $15 a month ($12 per month with the introductory offer), HBO Max offers a slew of content. HBO Max "is the rare streamer to lead with legacy parts over shiny new objects," says Herman, who adds that it's "almost an afterthought" that HBO Max is launching with originals like Love Life and The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo. "It’s much easier to capitalize on preexisting loyalties than to try and forge new ones from behind a paywall, and WarnerMedia is uniquely positioned to do the former," says Herman. "The crown jewel," Herman adds, "is Friends, which WarnerMedia took back from Netflix after years of leasing out its most valuable IP. Because one monster hit of a sitcom wasn’t enough, Friends will be buttressed by all 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory—plus seasons of Sesame Street, The Bachelor, Rick and Morty, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Boondocks, The O.C., Parts Unknown, and over 2,000 feature films, including offerings from the Warner Bros. archives, the Criterion Collection, and Hayao Miyazaki’s hallowed Studio Ghibli, in its first-ever streaming deal. All together, Max will have 10,000 hours of content for users to start streaming immediately, and there’s only more to come, starting with all of South Park next month." The problem, however, it that "while HBO Max may have HBO’s library, much of its user base, and part of its name, the two are fully separate entities with separate staffs," says Herman. "HBO is overseen by Casey Bloys, who’s guided the network into its post–Game of Thrones era; the chief content officer of HBO Max is Kevin Reilly, a veteran executive most recently at TNT, TBS, and truTV. If that seems like a lot to process, especially for a 2020 audience already swamped with entertainment options, that’s because it is. Which is a shame, since my answer to that 'What’s HBO Max?' question has always been: a pretty great deal, if you can fight your way through the nonsensical branding."
HBO Max is rolling out with a host of problems: "It’s already borderline insane that there’s HBO, HBO Go, and HBO Now — and they’re all the exact same product," says Josef Adalian. "AT&T is now expecting Seth and Sally Streamer to grasp that (1) HBO Max is yet another way to get HBO (plus some other stuff), that (2) if you already have HBO, in most cases, you don’t have to pay another penny for HBO Max, and that (3) there is no reason to sign up for HBO Now in a world where HBO Max exists — though if you do sign up for HBO Now, you’ll be able to stream HBO Max, too. As AT&T looks to attract new subscribers, having so many offerings available could result in some consumers throwing up their hands in dismay and picking a more distinctive offering, like the Disney bundle. On top of all that, a big chunk of TV consumers won’t be getting it right out of the gate: AT&T still hasn’t reached a deal with Comcast (the country’s biggest cable company), Roku, or Amazon’s Fire TV platform. Unless something happens in the next week, there will be many HBO customers unable to access Max at all — adding yet another layer of confusion to the platform’s rollout."
Coronavirus pandemic initially threw off HBO Max's 600-person tech team: WarnerMedia chief technology officer Jeremy Legg says his team working from home initially delayed their work, but they lost only a little ground. Ultimately, Legg decided to use HBO Now's existing framework as a backbone for HBO Max since it already could handle the stress of a live audience. “The good news is that we haven’t found anything major wrong,” Legg says. But, he notes, “If you have the luck of millions of people using your product, which certainly we intend to do, those people will find what you missed.”
HBO Max's advertising campaign has had a tough task: "How do you leverage a prestigious, upscale brand like HBO to make it feel more accessible and appealing to the hordes of middlebrow viewers now abandoning traditional TV en masse without lowering its elite status or its upscale price tag?" asks Felix Salmon. "Although it may sound like a daunting task, AT&T would hardly be the first company to pull off such a maneuver. The strategy — taking a high-end prestige brand intentionally down market in order to sell a broader array of more cheaply produced goods to a mass audience at an elevated price point — has been attempted enough times by various retailers over the years to have earned its own portmanteau. Welcome to HBO’s new life as a 'masstige' brand."
Longtime HBO subscribers will have to get used to a revised brand identity: "The HBO name will no longer stand for Tony Soprano or Jon Snow, but will serve as the marquee name of a mass-appeal platform meant to rival Netflix, which has 183 million subscribers, 63 million of them in the United States," says Edmund Lee. He adds: "A potential stumbling block for it is the cost. Netflix’s no-frills plan costs $9 a month. Disney Plus charges $7 a month. But HBO Max is asking people to spend $15 a month, at a time when household budgets are constrained by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic."