HBO Max launched in May.
Warner Bros./HBO Max
HBO Max, the streaming service from AT&T’s WarnerMedia, features all the regular network’s programming plus an amped-up library of extra shows, movies and originals that you can’t get elsewhere. But if you’ve been confused by the new, bigger app’s rollout, you’re not alone: Many people have been stumped by how much it costs them, what happened to HBO Now and HBO Go and why it’s unavailable on Roku or Fire TV? Similar to rivals Netflix and Disney Plus, HBO Max has a sprawling catalog of hit shows and movies, plus a big-budget slate of exclusive originals. Generally, HBO Max 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. Some (but not all) current HBO customers can get HBO Max at no added cost. And HBO’s various apps — HBO Go, HBO Now and now HBO Max — were winnowed down at the start of August. The company got rid of HBO Go, and HBO Now became a renamed app simply called HBO. At the end of the changes, the company will have just two apps: An HBO app, which is $15 a month and is limited to programming on the regular network for people who pay for the app directly, and then HBO Max, which is also $15 a month but with double the shows and movies. But those changes create some headaches for Roku and Amazon Fire TV users. Because it failed to secure distribution deals, HBO Max isn’t available to stream on those devices. And they’re the most popular streaming devices in the country. Roku and Amazon Fire TV together represented 70% of the streaming devices in the US last year. Anybody who currently streams HBO Go on a Roku or Fire TV is left in the lurch. Without Max, which is the app meant to effectively replace Go, people who use those devices need to jump through some hoops to stream HBO now that Go is gone. (See the device support section below for more details.) HBO Max launched with almost the full catalog of Studio Ghibli animated movies, streaming in the US for the first time.
Still, to entice you to give it a try on other platforms, 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 also have podcasts in its library based on its programming, along the lines of last year’s podcast companion to the miniseries Chernobyl. It’s working 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. 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 had six originals at launch, including anthology series Love Life, starring Anna Kendrick, which will return next year for a second season. HBO Max is adding 11 more originals over the summer, and has more on the way. 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 has said it’s aiming to film the Friends reunion by the end of the summer.) 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 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. 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 or Amazon. 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.) 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 sign up for Max directly instead. This confusion may be a factor in HBO Max’s difficulty getting current HBO pay-TV subscribers to sign up for Max, even if they already qualify for an upgrade at no added cost. Only about 1.1 million people have activated a Max account by upgrading their existing HBO service that they pay for through a regular TV provider. That’s out of more than 30 million current HBO customers that potentially qualify for a free upgrade. All they’d have to do is download the app, log in and watch — but millions aren’t so far. Overall, about 4.1 million accounts have signed up for HBO Max in its first month. That’s far less than the more than 10 million sign-ups Disney Plus reported in little more than 24 hours after its launch in November. But people who are using HBO Max seem to like it: People are spending 70% more time watching Max than they did HBO Now, the company’s previous standalone streaming app, based on average hours spent viewing per week. One thing that would get more people flocking to HBO Max during the coronavirus pandemic would be premiering big-budget movies like Tenet or Wonder Woman 1984 there. Other Hollywood giants, including Disney and Comcast’s Universal Pictures, have been switching to online debuts for some of their films that were originally destined for the big screen, like Disney Plus’ release of Hamilton In July. But HBO Max won’t premiere Warner Bros.’ Tenet on the streaming service, and AT&T indicated that other movies, like Wonder Woman 1984, likely won’t end up on the streaming service until long after theatrical release, whenever that happens. While the company may move some films off its theatrical slate and onto HBO Max instead, AT&T’s CEO said this would be content “on the margins.” Another big hole? HBO Max doesn’t offer 4K resolution or 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 all complicated. Below are the finer details about HBO Max’s cost, discounts, app and its shows and movies. What devices support HBO Max? HBO Max is available on a wide variety of devices, including phones, tablets, the web, connected TVs and game consoles — but it’s missing apps on Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Most Apple devices that can stream video support HBO Max — iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD. However, customers with second- and third-generation Apple TV models will need to stream HBO Max content from their iPhone or iPad to their TV with AirPlay.Google’s Android operating system for phones and tablets have an app for Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices will support HBO Max too. Sony’s PlayStation 4 systems can download the HBO Max app via the PlayStation Store. Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming consoles have the HBO Max app via the Microsoft Store.Select Samsung internet-connected smart TVs — models from 2016 through 2020 — can download and purchase HBO Max directly.But two crucial streaming devices don’t have HBO Max. Neither Roku nor Amazon Fire TV devices support HBO Max, even though those devices represent the vast majority of streaming devices in the US. Researcher Parks Associates estimated that nearly 70% of installed streaming TV devices in the country were either Roku or Amazon Fire TV products last year, and the companies have more than 80 million active users between them.
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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 on ratings like PG and TV-14. For HBO Now members, HBO Max automatically replaces the HBO Now mobile 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 sign up for 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 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 Perry Mason 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 all 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 2021.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.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 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; 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 Bridesmaids.On 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.
After launch, Max subsequently released more Originals, including: Karma, an unscripted kids adventure competition series — June 18.Doom Patrol, the second season of the DC Universe series — June 25.Esme & Roy, the second season of the preschool animated series from Sesame Workshop — June 25.Search Party, the third season of the comedy thriller that originally aired on TBS — June 25.Adventure Time: Distant Lands-BMO, which is the first of four specials resurrecting Cartoon Network’s franchise Adventure Time — June 25.Expecting Amy, a three-part docuseries about comedian Amy Schumer’s life on tour during her pregnancy — July 9.Close Enough, an animated comedy about millennial roommates — July 9.The House of Ho, a multigenerational family docusoap — July 16.Tig n’ Seek, an animated children’s series from Cartoon Network Studios about an 8-year-old and his gadget-building cat — July 23.Frayed, a scripted comedy about a wealthy Londoner who goes back to her Australian hometown — July 30.The Dog House, an unscripted British animal rescue series — July 30.American Pickle, the Seth Rogen comedy that is HBO Max’s first original film, about a 1920s immigrant who gets preserved in pickle brine for 100 years and meets his great-grandson (both characters portrayed by Rogen) in modern-day Brooklyn — Aug. 6.Then over the course of the fall and beyond, HBO Max will add other originals, including: Raised by Wolves, a sci-fi epic from director and executive producer Ridley Scott; the 10-episode series focuses on two androids raising human children on a mysterious planet — Sept. 3Unpregnant, a movie about two high-school students who go on a roadtrip to seek an abortion — Sept. 10The Flight Attendant, starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco based on the novel by Chris Bohjalian.The Friends unscripted cast reunion special.Of HBO Max’s originals, 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 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. A new animated series from Cartoon Network Studios called The Fungies, 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 hourlong 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. How is HBO Max different from all the rest of AT&T’s streaming services? AT&T itself 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 $60 a month for the cheapest tier’s first year but the price jumps 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 the company’s service closer to a traditional skinny bundle, but AT&T is in the process of phasing it out. AT&T Watch TV offered more than 35 live channels, including AT&T-owned TBS, TNT and CNN; it was a free perk included with certain unlimited AT&T wireless data plans, but anyone could 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. But AT&T has stopped allowing new people to sign up for the service, and so only existing customers or people who qualify for it as a free perk can continue to use it. Simple, right?