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 pretty simple 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.
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.
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.)
The library also includes a trove of classic films curated by TCM. Tuesday, 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." The decision came a day after Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, in an editorial published Monday in the Los Angeles Times, urged HBO Max to suspend streaming the film in the midst of worldwide protests against racism and police brutality, saying it romanticizes the horrors of slavery and perpetuates stereotypes of people of color. HBO Max removed Gone With the Wind, planning to return it to the catalog at an unspecified time with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of its racist depictions.
Gone With the Wind could return to the HBO Max catalog in less than a week, according to a report. HBO Max didn't respond to messages seeking comment.
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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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.
On the day of HBO Max's US launch, Roku said that even though HBO Max wasn't on Roku's devices yet, the company looks forward to "to helping HBO Max in the future successfully scale their streaming business." Roku said it was focused on mutually positive distribution agreements with all new services.
Amazon's comments on the matter have been a little more, well, fiery. The impasse with HBO Max stems from Amazon's Prime Video Channels, which 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."
In May, AT&T incoming CEO John Stankey warned that Amazon's Fire TV products may not have an HBO Max app. "I'm pleased to say we're going to be in virtually all app stores, or maybe one exception. It looks like we may not be in the Amazon Fire app store when all of this is said and done," he said.
The service supports for the following devices and platforms:
- Most Apple devices that can stream video will 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 will have an app. Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices will support HBO Max too.
- Sony's PlayStation 4 systems will be able to download the HBO Max app via the PlayStation Store.
- Microsoft's Xbox One gaming consoles will also be able to get the HBO Max app via the Microsoft Store.
- Select Samsung internet-connected smart TVs — models from 2016 through 2020 — will be able to download and purchase HBO Max directly.
How much does HBO Max cost?
HBO Max is $15 a month at launch with a seven-day free trial.
Last week, AT&T's incoming CEO John Stankey said HBO Max will launch a cheaper, ad-supported tier early next year. He didn't specify the price, the precise launch date nor any catalog limitations that 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 don't qualify for the seven-day free trial.
HBO's current standalone streaming service, HBO Now, also costs $15 a month. Though HBO Now will continue to operate, HBO Max will essentially replace it.
HBO Now subscribers are welcome to stick with that service, but they'll essentially be paying the same amount for less programming. HBO Max will have all the same shows and movies on HBO Now plus a big catalog of licensed programming and exclusive originals. On mobile, the HBO Max app effectively replaced the HBO Now app through automatic software upgrades on Apple and Android phones and tables.
Compared with rival streaming services launching before HBO Max, that pricing may feel steep to many consumers. Disney Plus is $7 a month, and Apple TV Plus is $5. Both are offering deals that can cut the price further or are providing opportunities for extended free periods lasting up to a year. Apple, for example, is giving away a year's subscription to anyone who's purchased an Apple device since early September. And Disney set up a deal with Verizon so any of the carrier's mobile subscribers get a year free.
How do I get Max if I already have HBO? What does it cost?
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.
Some HBO Max distributors unlock an HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost for their current HBO and 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
- 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 Network, or internet-based ones like Amazon Prime Video Channels and The Roku Channel.
Amazon said in a statement that nearly 5 million HBO streaming customers access their subscription through its 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."
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 is HBO Max launching 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. Peacock's national launch is set for 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.
"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.
Now playing: Watch this: HBO Max: How to get it 4:24
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.
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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, the next Max Originals that are scheduled for release are:
- Karma, an unscriptedkids 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:
- The Flight Attendant, starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco based on the novel by Chris Bohjalian.
- The Friends unscripted cast reunion special.
- Sci-fi epic Raised by Wolves from director and executive producer Ridley Scott. The 10-episode series focuses on two androids raising human children on a mysterious planet. The show had already wrapped production in South Africa.
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 does HBO Max fit in with HBO Go and HBO Now?
HBO Max is similar to HBO Go and HBO Now but with additional programming.
Generally speaking, HBO Now and HBO Go are nearly the same product. The main difference is who uses them: Anyone can sign up for HBO Now for $15 a month, while HBO Go is the app for people who already have an HBO subscription through a live-TV provider like cable or satellite. Both HBO Now and HBO Go stream all the programming available on WarnerMedia's traditional HBO network.
For HBO Go users, it's more complicated. HBO Go is unlocked by a pay-TV subscription, and HBO Max won't unlock for all pay-TV customers. (Pop back up to the "How do I get Max if I already have HBO?" section for those details.)
How is HBO Max different from all the rest of AT&T's streaming services?
AT&T 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 $50 a month for the cheapest tier's first year; the price jumps to $93 a month 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 closer to a traditional skinny bundle. It offers more than 35 live channels, including AT&T-owned TBS, TNT and CNN. AT&T Watch TV is a free perk included with certain unlimited AT&T wireless data plans, but anyone can 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.
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