HBO Max: Everything to know about HBO’s newer, bigger streaming app

30 Sep, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


Justice League Snyder Cut

HBO Max launched in May.


Warner Bros./HBO Max

HBO Max is the premium network’s streaming service to replace HBO Now and HBO Go, featuring all the channel’s programming plus an amped-up library of extra shows, movies and originals you can’t get elsewhere. But HBO Max’s rollout has confused many people, failing to attract millions of existing HBO subscribers who can upgrade to Max for free. And Max is still 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. 

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 — so now the company has just two apps: an HBO app, which is limited to programming on the regular network, and then HBO Max, which has about double the shows and movies. 

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HBO Max launched with almost the full catalog of Studio Ghibli animated movies, streaming in the US for the first time. 


Studio Ghibli/GKids

But all those changes to HBO’s streaming options created some headaches for Roku and Amazon Fire TV users. Because HBO Max couldn’t come to a distribution deal with either Roku and Amazon, its app isn’t available to stream on those devices — 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. 

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. 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, Studio Ghibli and the Criterion Collection, as well as popular shows like Friends, South ParkThe Big Bang TheoryRick 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 also has podcasts in its library linked to its programming, along the lines of last year’s podcast companion to the miniseries Chernobyl. Raised by Wolves, an original sci-fi drama directed by Ridley Scott, has a podcast available now on Max, for example. 

HBO Max’s so-called Max Originals will also offer new, exclusive shows and movies. One high-profile exclusive is the fabled “Snyder cut” of the 2017 movie Justice League. Another will be Peacemaker, a DC spinoff series designed to be linked to next year’s theatrical movie The Suicide Squad, with John Cena reprising his role and James Gunn writing and directing before he begins work on the next Guardians of the Galaxy film. Other originals that’ve already been released include Raised by Wolves, which appears to be the most popular Max original so far; an Adventure Time animated hour-long special, the first of four; and indie film Class Action Park, a documentary about the world’s most dangerous amusement park. 

One highly anticipated original remains missing. A Friends reunion special was expected to function 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. (The company had said it was aiming to film the Friends reunion by the end of the summer but it was postponed again in August.)

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 is more complicated. 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 and can’t live without Max, 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 who 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 account holders 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. 

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 and Mulan in September. 

But HBO Max didn’t premiere Warner Bros.’ Tenet, which had a complex theatrical release, and AT&T indicated that other movies, like Wonder Woman 1984, probably won’t end up on the streaming service until long after their eventual theatrical debuts. Though 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 missing element: 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, it’s 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 variety of devices but it’s missing apps for 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. 

HBO Max executives say they have apps ready for both Roku and Fire TV, but the company must hammer out deals with both those distributors first. 

NBCUniversal’s Peacock, a rival streaming service that launched a couple months after HBO Max, was also missing from Roku and Amazon Fire TV for months, but it struck a deal with Roku in September to bring the service to those users. But no signs have emerged that HBO Max may be closing in a deal with either device maker. 

Generally, Roku has said it is focused on mutually positive distribution agreements with all new services, without much elaboration. Amazon’s comments on the matter have been a little more, well, fiery. The impasse with HBO Max partly stems from Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, which is a service that lets people subscribe to multiple streaming services in one place and pay for them through Amazon. In a statement on the day HBO Max launched, Amazon said nearly 5 million HBO streamers are subscribed through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels. 

“Unfortunately, with the launch of HBO Max, AT&T is choosing to deny these loyal HBO customers access to the expanded catalog,” the company said. “We believe that if you’re paying for HBO, you’re entitled to the new programming through the method you’re already using. That’s just good customer service and that’s a priority for us.”

By late July, AT&T was firing back at Amazon. “We’ve tried repeatedly to make HBO Max available to all customers using Amazon Fire devices, including those customers that have purchased HBO via Amazon,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said, referring to people who pay for HBO using Amazon Channels. “Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently [from] how they’ve chosen to treat other services and their customers.”

What do I do if I previously used HBO Go or Now on Roku or Fire TV? 

The sunsetting of HBO Go and rebranding of HBO Now set up difficulties for some Roku and Amazon Fire TV users. Anybody who previously streamed HBO Go on a Roku or Fire TV was suddenly stuck with a inoperable app and wasn’t given much guidance on how to cope. 

The good news is these users can unlock the newly renamed HBO app, but they need to jump through some hoops first. AT&T pseudo-collapsed HBO Go and HBO Now together into the rebranded HBO app. While this app won’t have any of the extra originals, shows or movies that you get with HBO Max, you’ll still be able to continue streaming regular HBO programming with it on Roku and Fire TV. 

But for legacy HBO Go customers, you need to upgrade your HBO account for HBO Max. Once you register an email address and password with HBO Max, you can use your HBO Max credentials to sign in to the newly rebranded HBO app on both Roku and Amazon Fire TV.  

In addition, Roku noted that people who pay for HBO through Comcast, Charter or AT&T TV can stream HBO on the Comcast Xfinity Stream, Spectrum TV and AT&T TV apps too. Amazon didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. 

What does HBO Max cost?

HBO Max is $15 a month at launch with a seven-day free trial. 

AT&T CEO John Stankey has said HBO Max will launch a cheaper, ad-supported tier early next year. He didn’t specify the price, the precise launch date or any catalog limitations this tier might have. 

Before launch, people who preordered the service at HBOMax.com unlocked a discount deal that lowered the price to $13 a month for the first year. Preordered accounts didn’t qualify for the seven-day free trial. 

Legacy HBO Now subscribers can keep streaming the programming from regular HBO without registering for HBO Max, but they’ll essentially be paying the same amount for less programming.  

Compared with rival streaming services launching before HBO Max, that pricing may feel steep. Disney Plus is $7 a month, and Apple TV Plus is $5. Both are offering deals that can cut the price further or offering extended free periods to some customers. Apple, for example, is giving away a year’s subscription to anyone who’s purchased an Apple device. And Disney set up a deal with Verizon so any of the carrier’s mobile subscribers get a year free. 

How do I get HBO Max if I already pay for HBO? What will it cost me?

Things get more complicated if you already have HBO and want to know what the launch of HBO Max means for you. Some people who already have an existing subscription to HBO are able to unlock HBO Max at no extra cost, but not everyone

Legacy HBO Now subscribers through Apple or Google barely needed to do anything to unlock HBO Max. The HBO Now app was automatically replaced by the HBO Max app via a software update on those mobile devices that support HBO Max. In those cases, when you open the new HBO Max app, you just need to agree to the HBO Max Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and choose to “Access All of HBO Max,” and you’re set, according to an HBO Now support page.

Some HBO Max distributors unlock an HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost for any current HBO and legacy HBO Now customers, thanks to deals HBO Max has struck with them. You qualify for the HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost if you already pay for HBO through: 

  • AT&T (HBO’s parent company) and DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T TV Now, AT&T TV and AT&T wireless users who can add HBO with certain unlimited plans
  • Charter and its Spectrum services
  • YouTube TV or Google
  • Apple
  • Hulu
  • Altice USA and its Optimum and Suddenlink services
  • Verizon and its Fios services
  • Cox Communications
  • The NCTC group of independent cable and broadband companies — that includes WOW!, Atlantic Broadband, RCN, Grande Communications & Wave, MCTV and others. (Check if your pay-TV provider is an NCTC member.)
  • Comcast X1 and Flex customers

However, it’s unclear if HBO Max will strike more deals with other pay-TV providers, whether that’s traditional providers like Dish or internet-based ones like Amazon Prime Video Channels and The Roku Channel

AT&T is also offering a complicated matrix of promos for HBO Max. Some customers get Max at no extra cost, while others qualify for a one-month, three-month or one-year free 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 elsewhere?

HBO Max launched 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 a parade of streaming service launches. Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus launched in November. April brought Quibi, a mobile-only streaming service that features short, episodic originals. Also in April, NBCUniversal’s Peacock launched a “sneak peek” at its service on Comcast before launching nationally July 15. 

What product features does HBO Max have? 

In a long-anticipated feature for anyone streaming HBO Go, HBO Max has downloads for its mobile apps. Unfortunately, like most things with HBO Max, the company doesn’t have a clear answer for whether there are limitations on the amount of programming you can download.

Friends

HBO Max brokered a reported $425 million deal for all episodes of ’90s hit Friends, which exited Netflix to start streaming on HBO Max at launch.


NBC

“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. 


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HBO Max: How to get it



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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. HBO Max said 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 may come and go as licensing changes):

  • The so-called Snyder cut of Justice League, slated to arrive on HBO Max in 2021.
  • 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, Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner: The Final Cut and many others.
  • Newer hits like The Invisible Man, Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari.

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. Some of the originals have included:

  • Love Life, a romantic comedy starring Anna Kendrick and produced by Kendrick and Paul Feig, who is known for blockbuster comedies like Bridesmaids 
  • Doom Patrol, the second season of the DC Universe series
  • Adventure Time: Distant Lands-BMO, which is the first of four specials resurrecting Cartoon Network’s franchise Adventure Time
  • Expecting Amy, a three-part docuseries about comedian Amy Schumer’s life on tour during her pregnancy
  • 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 
  • Class Action Park, the indie doc about the world’s most dangerous theme park 
  • Raised by Wolves, the 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

Then over the course of the fall and beyond, 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
  • A reboot of Pretty Little Liars

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 in the pipeline 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. 
  • 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, a September release 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.



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