HBO Max launched in May.
Warner Bros., HBO Max
HBO Max is the premium network’s streaming service replacing HBO Now and HBO Go, featuring all the channel’s programming plus an amped-up library of extra shows, movies and originals. (You still don’t have an app for the HBO Max on Roku, though). In an unprecedented move, HBO Max will stream all of Warner Bros. 2021 new movies — plus with Wonder Woman 1984 on Dec. 25 — no extra charge the same day each movie is released in US theaters.The downsides: HBO Max has killed off its weeklong free trial. That means if you want to stream Wonder Woman, Matrix 4 or Dune, you either have to pay $15 for at least one month of the service, or you need to figure out if your regular HBO subscription includes a free upgrade to a Max account. Making Wonder Woman 1984 and Warner Bros. other big new flicks available on HBO Max is sure to be a boon for interest in the service. Since its launch in late May, HBO Max has been grappling with a bumpy rollout: Even though millions of people can upgrade to Max at no extra cost because they already subscribe to regular HBO, only a fraction of those people have bothered downloading and signing up for the app. In HBO Max’s first five months, it has ramped up to 8.6 million accounts; Disney Plus, by comparison, hit 50 million subscribers in the same amount of time. Why has Max struggled? For one, HBO Max initially failed to get its app on the most popular streaming devices, and AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit, which operates HBO and its streaming business, played musical chairs with all the apps that HBO operates, confusing some would-be Max customers. But after months of absence, the service finally scored support for its HBO Max app to stream on Amazon devices like Fire TV, “Firestick” and Fire tablets. Amazon’s Fire streaming devices are neck and neck with Roku as the most popular platform to stream video on televisions — together, Amazon and Roku represent more than 70% of streaming devices in the US, according to Parks Associates. HBO Max, however, still lacks an app on Roku. HBO has a different streaming app on Roku, simply called HBO, which is limited to programming on the regular network. And most Roku 4K device customers with Apple devices like iPhones and iPads are now able to “cast” HBO Max from their handheld devices to their TVs via Apple’s AirPlay 2. But the expanded catalog of Max isn’t available on Roku with a simple one-click HBO Max app. Also hurting HBO Max’s traction: It’s pricey. HBO Max is one of the most expensive among its rivals, similar in price to Netflix‘s most popular plan but with a smaller catalog, more-limited features and less name recognition. New subscribers can sign up for Max and pay $15 a month. That matches the price HBO already charges for its regular channel on most pay-TV providers, HBO Now. Some (but not all) current HBO customers can get HBO Max at no added cost. It also competes with new rivals like Disney Plus, Peacock and Apple TV Plus, but all three are much less expensive. 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. 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 Park, 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.) As the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered theaters and forced millions to entertain themselves at home, HBO Max’s parent company, which includes the movie studio Warner Bros., now turning to HBO Max to release new movies originally intended to premiere only on big screens.Wonder Woman 1984 is the biggest movie yet in the pandemic to be released straight to streaming, by any studio. And not other studio has made nearly as large of a commitment to streams its movies online “day-and-date,” when theatrical and home-viewing releases coincide. It’s true that Universal released its DreamWorks Animation sequel Trolls World Tour as an online rental in April, and Disney put out its live-action remake of Mulan on Disney Plus in September. But both those movies came with an extra cost to watch them online. They were available under a model known as premium video on demand, a special early online release that requires customers to pay a high price to unlock the title for home viewing. And Wonder Woman isn’t the first time a studio has shifted a movie planned for the big screen to its streaming service instead. Disney has done this with a clutch of movies on Disney Plus, most notably Hamilton in July and its upcoming Pixar movie Soul, too, set to drop on Disney Plus on Dec. 25. But none of those movies comes close to the $200 million budget for Wonder Woman 1984. Up until now, studios have mostly been delaying their biggest, most expensive franchise films until next year or beyond, hoping for a future when cinemas reopen widely and audiences feel comfortable streaming into theaters in droves. Even before Wonder Woman, studio Warner Bros. decided to let HBO Max release The Witches, a reboot of the classic Roald Dahl book and 1990 film, simultaneous with the movie’s limited theatrical release. But Warner Bros may have learned some lessons from its release of Tenet, the Christopher Nolan thriller. Another $200 million budget film, Tenet opened in theaters in the US in September, even though huge cities like New York and Los Angeles still had cinemas on lockdown and theaters that were open needed to limit how many people could fill their seats, as a safety protocol. Tenet’s opening weekend box-office return was $9.4 million domestically; that compares to opening returns for other Nolan films like The Dark Knight Rises’ $160.9 million, The Dark Knight’s $158.4 million and Inception’s $62.8 million.
Beyond big-screen surprises hitting HBO Max, the service’s so-called Max Originals also offer new, exclusive shows and movies. Some of the latest: November brought The Flight Attendant, a comedic thriller starring Kaley Cuoco, and a reunion special of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Also in the pipeline is the fabled “Snyder cut” of the 2017 movie Justice League, as well as Peacemaker — the DC spinoff series is designed to be linked to next year’s theatrical movie The Suicide Squad and will star John Cena reprising his role and James Gunn writing and directing before he begins work on the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie. 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 HBO Max’s original productions have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic too. 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. (The latest reports are that it is set to be filmed in March.)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. Below are the finer details about HBO Max’s cost, discounts, app and its shows and movies. What devices support streaming HBO Max’s app? HBO Max is available on a variety of devices, but it’s missing an app for Roku. 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.Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire tablets have support for HBO Max’s app
But Roku devices still don’t support HBO Max. Roku is one of the most popular lines of streaming devices in the US, with more than 46 million active account. People with 4K Roku devices got a new workaround to stream HBO Max itself in November. Most Roku 4K streamers and TVs updated with support for Apple’s AirPlay 2, which means iPhones and iPads with the HBO Max app can “cast” to Roku-connected TV screens. That can unlock the expanded HBO Max catalog for some Roku customers, even without a deal.
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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 2019. April brought Quibi, a mobile-only streaming service that features short, episodic originals (which flamed out and completely shut down by December). 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. 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.
“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 for most of its catalog. The exception is all the theatrical movies that Warner Bros. is releasing on HBO Max the same day as cinemas; all those films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR. 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. 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. Most notably, Wonder Woman 1984 will stream on HBO Max for one month starting Dec. 25, coinciding with the movie’s theatrical release in the US. And all of Warner Bros. 2021 movies will be released on Max next year the same way. They’ll be included in HBO Max’s catalog at no extra cost.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 is adding other originals, including: The Witches, the new movie based on the classic book starring Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway.The Flight Attendant, starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco based on the novel by Chris Bohjalian.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion Special, getting the series’ remaining cast members together for a family reunion on set in the Banks’ home.
Superintelligence, a movie starring Melissa McCarthy about an all-power artificial intelligence that chooses to study the most average person on Earth.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.