HBO Max launched in May.
Warner Bros./HBO Max
HBO Max, the HBO-based streaming service, arrived last month, bringing with it an amped-up library of extra shows and movies as well as some confusion around a few questions: How much will it cost me? Why can’t I watch on Roku or Fire TV? Like rivals Netflix and Disney Plus, HBO Max has a sprawling catalog of hit shows and movies, plus a big-budget slate of exclusive originals. HBO Max, though, is the most expensive of the bunch. New subscribers can sign up and pay $15 a month after a weeklong free trial. That matches the price HBO already charges for its regular channel on most pay-TV providers and for its preexisting standalone streaming service, HBO Now. But if you’re already paying for HBO in some form, the amount you pay for Max — or whether you have to pay anything extra at all — well, it’s complicated. The complexity stems from HBO Max failing to broker deals with some existing HBO providers. HBO Max launched with almost the full catalog of Studio Ghibli animated movies, streaming in the US for the first time.
And failures to secure deals with Roku and Amazon are also at the root of HBO Max’s unavailability on those companies’ popular streaming devices. Roku or Amazon Fire TV together represent an eye-popping 70% of the streaming devices in the country. And if HBO Max users are anything like people who stream Netflix, the vast majority of viewing hours would be on televisions. (Ask Quibi if you want a sense of how consumers feel when they can’t stream big-budget programming to their TVs.)HBO Max says it has apps for Roku and Fire TV ready to go. But the service must work out deals with both companies first. The latest wrinkle involves the company’s other streaming apps, HBO Go and HBO Now. AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which runs HBO, said in June that it would be getting rid of HBO Go as of July 31 and renaming HBO Now to be simply “HBO.” HBO Go is the network’s streaming app that lets regular pay-TV HBO subscribers watch over the internet. HBO Now is the channel’s stand-alone streaming app that lets people subscribe to and stream HBO without any pay-TV bundles. WarnerMedia said the move was meant to simplify its streaming offerings to just two apps, now that HBO Max is live and “widely distributed.” For people who are still using HBO Now, the change will be subtle: The app will continue to exist, just with a shorter name. But the end of HBO Go could cause headaches for people who rely on that app to stream HBO programming through devices like Roku and Fire TV, which don’t have an HBO Max app available to replace it. Unless WarnerMedia reaches distribution deals with Roku and Amazon, people who use those devices won’t have a simple app to stream HBO once Go is gone. Still, to entice you to give it a try, HBO Max has padded itself with more content than you’ll find on the regular HBO channel and HBO Now. For the same price, HBO Max doubles the amount of programming. AT&T, which owns HBO as part of its WarnerMedia TV and film division, has been pouring billions of dollars into its budgets for original programming and into expensive deals to stream blockbuster movies from DC, Harry Potter, Studio Ghibli and the Criterion Collection, as well as popular shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty, Doctor Who and new episodes of Adventure Time. (There’s a deep dive into the shows and movies on Max near the end of this article.) HBO Max will have podcasts in its library that are based on its programming, along the lines of last year’s podcast companion to the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. Tuesday, HBO Max said it would work with iHeartRadio on a slate of podcasts linked to HBO Max’s upcoming originals and legacy shows. Two of the first shows getting a companion podcast are Search Party, the comedy thriller that previously aired on TBS; and Raised by Wolves, an original sci-fi drama directed by Ridley Scott. The library also includes a trove of classic films curated by Turner Classic Movies. In mid-June, HBO Max removed one of them: The Oscar-winning 1939 drama Gone With the Wind was temporarily pulled from the service because of “racist depictions” following an editorial in the Los Angeles Times written by Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley. He urged HBO Max to suspend streaming the film in the midst of worldwide protests against racism and police brutality, saying the movie romanticizes the horrors of slavery and perpetuates stereotypes of people of color. As it removed the movie HBO Max said it would return Gone With the Wind to the catalog at an unspecified time, and the service will add an introduction to the movie discussing its “its multiple historical contexts” by Jacqueline Stewart, an African American cinema expert and TCM host. HBO Max’s so-called Max Originals will also offer new, exclusive shows and movies. The latest high-profile exclusive is the fabled “Snyder cut” of the 2017 movie Justice League. Beyond that, the service has six originals at launch, including anthology series Love Life, starring Anna Kendrick. (HBO Max announced two weeks after launch that Love Life has been renewed for a second season.) HBO Max will add 11 more originals over the summer, including the Aug. 6 premiere of Seth Rogen’s comedy film An American Pickle. One highly anticipated original was missing at launch. A Friends reunion special was expected to serve as the service’s marquee exclusive on day one. But like most things in the world, HBO Max’s original productions have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Confined to their homes, people across the nation are streaming much more, but the novel coronavirus and its respiratory disease, COVID-19, have also shut down television productions globally. HBO Max has said it’s delivering 95% of the new shows and movies it had planned for launch and soon thereafter. The company was in the midst of re-creating the Friends set to host its six stars in front of a live audience in early March, when lockdowns and social distancing shut it down. The company now says it’s aiming to film by the end of the summer, saying the Max team is “committed to making it a really special experience for fans.”HBO Max’s $15-a-month price matches the cost of HBO Now and of HBO’s regular channel when you get it through most pay-TV providers. By comparison, Disney Plus is $7 a month and Netflix’s most popular tier is $13 a month. For brand-new HBO customers, pricing is straightforward. You just sign up, and pay the $15 monthly cost after a seven-day free trial. Early next year, HBO Max will add a new tier that’s cheaper each month but includes commercials to support the discount. But if you already pay for HBO, the question of whether you get a free upgrade to HBO Max has no simple answer. Some people who already have a regular HBO subscription or HBO Now will get Max for no extra cost, but not everyone. In order for you to get the automatic upgrade to Max, HBO needs to strike a deal with the company that’s already billing you for HBO, whether it’s a cable-TV company like Charter or a digital provider like Apple. HBO Max has been ramping up these deals, and there’s a growing list of providers that are letting their HBO customers upgrade to Max. (See the full list below.) HBO Max was still striking deals after launch. In the middle of the service’s launch day, Comcast and HBO Max announced that the biggest cable provider in the country would unlock HBO Max for its Xfinity X1 and Flex customers who have existing HBO subscriptions at no added cost. Comcast was one of the glaring gaps in HBO Max’s distribution at launch earlier that day. But HBO Max doesn’t have deals with every provider. If you’re in that boat, you could be forced to choose: either pay twice — one bill for regular HBO and another for HBO Max — or cancel your current HBO subscription to re-sign up for Max. Another big hole? HBO Max doesn’t offer 4K resolution nor high dynamic range image quality at launch. CNET’s review of HBO Max reflects that until the service resolves those issues, HBO feels like it’s still a work in progress. So yeah, it’s complicated. Below are the finer details about HBO Max’s cost, discounts, app and its shows and movies. What devices can stream HBO Max?HBO Max is available on a wide variety of devices, including phones, tablets, the web, connected TVs and game consoles. But two crucial streaming devices didn’t have HBO Max apps at launch. Neither Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices supported HBO Max, even though those devices represent the vast majority of streaming devices in the US. Researcher Parks Associates estimates nearly 70% of installed streaming-TV devices in the country are either Roku or Amazon Fire TV products.
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“We don’t have a crisp answer for you on how many downloads will be allowed but it’s going to be a very comfortable number for most people,” Andy Forssell, the product chief of HBO Max, said. “The limit will probably be how much space you have in your device versus our limit, and that will liberalize over time.” HBO Max allows you to stream to three different devices simultaneously. By comparison, Disney Plus allows four simultaneous streams, and Netflix allows between one and four depending on how much you pay each month. You can also create up to five profiles to keep recommendations separate for different members of the household, and it also has kid accounts that are unlocked by entering a PIN. These parental controls allow moms and dads to set the maturity levels of the programming each kids’ profile can access, based ratings like PG and TV-14. For HBO Now members, HBO Max automatically replaces the HBO Now app through a software update. But there’s a downside to the transition from HBO Now and HBO Go to HBO Max: HBO Max won’t preserve any of your watch history if you switch from an existing HBO streaming account. So your personalized recommendations start with a clean slate, and HBO Max won’t know, for example, if you’ve already watched every episode of Game of Thrones three times or if you’re halfway through the movie Joker and want to pick back up where you left off. Another missing element: HBO Max doesn’t offer 4K resolution nor high dynamic range image quality at launch. Where can I get HBO Max? The simplest way to get HBO Max is to sign up for it directly at hbomax.com. Through Apple, HBO Max will be an iOS app for iPhone and iPad, which will allow you to sign up and pay through an in-app purchase. Apple will also integrate HBO Max into its own TV app, which allows you to congregate certain streaming channels to watch them in one place. Through Google, HBO Max will have an app for Android phones and tablets in the Google Play store, and you’ll be able to sign up inside the app with an in-app purchase. You’ll also be able to stream HBO Max on Android TV, Chromebook and Google Chromecast. If you already subscribe to HBO Now through Google Play, you’ll automatically be able to log in to HBO Max at launch at no additional charge, and you’ll continue to be billed through Google. And YouTube TV, the streaming pay-TV service operated by Google’s YouTube, will also carry HBO Max. People with Samsung Smart TVs that support the HBO Max app will also be able to sign up directly there.
HBO Max: How to get it
Shows and movies: What can I watch? Generally, HBO Max includes 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. 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. Despite the coronavirus, HBO Max now says it will have 30 originals in year one and 60 in year two.Now that the service is live, an easy way to see what’s available without signing up is a third-party catalog search service like Reelgood. The following section summarizes what HBO Max has and what’s coming. The simplest part of the catalog to understand is HBO itself. HBO Max includes 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 and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver; and the past seasons of those programs as well as the full HBO back catalog, like Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep and The Wire; plus any of the HBO original films, documentaries and specials.
Movies are a crucial part of the catalog. 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 be available at launch):The so-called Snyder cut of Justice League, slated to arrive on HBO Max in 2021The 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.Anime selections like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and other top titles from anime-focused streaming service Crunchyroll, which is also owned by AT&T. Classic movies like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, The Shining, Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Goonies, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and many others.Newer hits like Crazy Rich Asians and A Star Is Born.On top of that, AT&T has been licensing outside hit shows to beef up HBO Max’s catalog. The most eye-popping deals have been:A reported $425 million deal for all episodes of ’90s hit Friends, which exited Netflix to start streaming on HBO Max at launchA reported $500 million deal to stream The Big Bang TheoryIt’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; The West Wing; and British series like Luther and Ricky Gervais’ original The Office, 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 new 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, the originals are: Love Life, the romantic comedy starring Anna Kendrick and produced by Kendrick and Paul Feig, known for blockbuster comedies like BridesmaidsOn the Record, a controversial Me Too documentary film about record executive Russell Simmons.Legendary, a competition show based on underground drag balls. Craftopia, a YouTuber-hosted craft series.New Looney Tunes cartoons.The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.