HBO Max: Is More Better?

AT&T, after the 2018 WarnerMedia acquisition, will now be rolling out yet another HBO service called HBO Max. It will be unveiled on May 27, 2020. What is different about it? Basically, they’ll be adding more content, original and otherwise. How will this affect those who already get HBO through one of the other services? It depends.

Although HBO Max won’t yet be available through Amazon Prime as is the case with HBO Now, one source states that this won’t affect many other subscribers to HBO Now: “most existing HBO subscribers on Hulu will be automatically upgraded to HBO Max” (Variety). Most? Not all? On the main page of the official HBO Max website, it suggests that all Hulu subscribers will be included in the transition: “Subscribers who get HBO through AT&T TV, DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, Hulu, or Spectrum will get access to HBO Max at launch (at no extra cost).” But there is conflicting info: “the upgrade is only available to direct-billed subscribers and not for those who access HBO Now via Roku, Hulu, Apple, or other non-direct avenues” (Observer).

The latter might be true. When attempting to subscribe to HBO Max through an account paid through Hulu, the following message is given: “Your HBO NOW subscription is billed through Hulu. You are not eligible for this promotional offer. […] Offer not currently available to subscribers that obtain their subscriptions through third-party providers that are authorized to distribute the HBO NOW service.” Does that only mean the promotional offer is not available to Hulu subscribers or that the entire service isn’t available through Hulu? It’s unclear.

Whatever this might mean for HBO Now in the future, it definitely won’t overlap with HBO Go that will remain the same as a separate service for cable subscribers. It seems that, for the time being, HBO Max will be in addition to these other options. But going by the reporting, it most likely will eventually replace HBO Now. The pricing will be the same as HBO Now at $14.99, if more expensive than the base plans of Hulu and Netflix. They might go the Hulu route on advertising: “Currently, HBO Max will not feature ads. According to Variety, HBO Max will receive a cheaper ad-supported plan in 2021” (How-To Geek).

It is a rebranding. HBO’s tagline used to be “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” but now will be “Where HBO Meets So Much More.” Further moving away from its cable origins, it will no longer will be a mere channel. They are calling HBO Max a platform, apparently seeking to rival the likes of Netflix and Disney+. Still, they claim they are going to continue to emphasize quality over quantity with what they produce, the complete opposite model of Netflix.

Yet some worry that mixing in non-HBO content waters down the premier image of the HBO brand built up over so many decades. “AT&T purchased Time Warner in the hopes that phone service and content would yield a peanut butter and chocolate combination. Instead, AT&T is junking up Time Warner’s luxury product, HBO, and turning it into HBO Max. This is the equivalent of Hermès selling JanSport alongside Birkin bags” (Fast Company). I don’t know if that is a fair criticism, but I could see the risk over time in HBO losing what made it stand out from the crowd.

On the other hand, HBO Max is putting forth an impressive lineup. “The streaming service pulls from WarnerMedia’s deep content library, including films and TV from Warner Bros.’ 100-year content collection, New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes, a curated selection of classic films in partnership with TCM, and more. HBO Max will also offer an extensive selection of third-party acquired series and movies” (Digital Trends). This will be serious competition for Netflix, although less so for Hulu and Amazon Prime that allows HBO Now as an add-on.

Admittedly, for good or ill, it vastly increases the content available, from South Park and Rick and Morty to Doctor Who and DC movies, along with the Criterion Collection, Studio Ghibli, and BBC Studios. Also, don’t worry — it will still have Sesame Street, not to mention adding popular shows like Friends and Big Bang Theory (there will be a Friends reunion special! Oh joy!). There will be plenty of older shows too, such as Perry Mason and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That brings in a wider selection to an already well established 40 years backlog of HBO series, movies, documentaries, and stand-up comedy.

Of course, they’ll be producing more original content as well. One of their upcoming shows will be Adventure Time: New Lands. It will be awesome. In the final episode of the new series, Princess Bubblegum rides Lady Rainicorn while terrorizing the Candy people and burning down the Candy Kingdom. Oh wait… that was another show. I’m sure HBO will do better this time, right? There is no doubt it will bring in fans of the show.

Distant Lands will air as four hour-long episodes, bringing audiences back two years following the Cartoon Network series’ conclusion. Each of the episodes will focus on a different main character from the series, with the first revisiting BMO, the second about Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen, the third on the Peppermint Butler and the finale featuring Finn and Jake reconnecting on a new quest” (CBR).

By the way, it does sound like HBO is still planning to come out with the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. I hope they are able to redeem themselves. Either way, HBO Max will be a better deal than what was on offer before. Paying for HBO as a separate service with HBO Now was always questionable, considering the limited if high quality content. HBO Max does put HBO on an equal footing with the other platform giants. But for most viewers, the equation remains the same. The main reason to get HBO Max is the same as it ever was, that one enjoys the original content of HBO.