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Friday, January 15, 2021

HBO Max: Everything you need to know about HBO’s bigger streaming app

HBO Max, the HBO-based streaming service from AT&T’s WarnerMedia, features an amped-up library of extra shows and originals, as well as some confusion around a few questions: How much will it cost? What’s happening to HBO Now and HBO Go? And why can’t people watch it on Roku or Fire TV?

On Thursday, AT&T revealed that about 4.1 million accounts have signed up for HBO Max in its first month. That’s a far cry from the more than 10 million sign-ups that Disney Plus reported in little more than 24 hours after its launch in November. But HBO Max’s rollout is in line with the projections AT&T originally made for the service to reach 50 million subscribers by 2025.

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Yet even without any clarity about when cinemas will reopen widely in the US, HBO Max won’t premiere Warner Bros. movies like Tenet on the streaming service during the coronavirus pandemic. 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 earlier this month.

But AT&T said Tenet won’t premiere on HBO Max, and it’s unlikely that Wonder Woman 1984 will end up on the streaming service anytime soon either.

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. 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.

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If you’re already paying for HBO, you may be able to unlock HBO Max at no added cost — or maybe not. It all depends on whether you pay for HBO through a provider that HBO Max has brokered a deal with, and HBO Max doesn’t have partnerships with all of them. 

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 represented 70% of the streaming devices in the country last year. And if HBO Max users are anything like people who stream Netflix, the vast majority of viewing hours would be on televisions.

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. Thursday, AT&T’s CEO dressed down Amazon for keeping HBO Max away from customers, while staying silent on Roku.

But another wrinkle to HBO’s streaming availability will come to a head at the end of July, as the company simplifies its other streaming apps, HBO Go and HBO Now. It’s getting rid of HBO Go as of July 31, and over the course of a few months will be renaming HBO Now as simply “HBO.” HBO Go is the network’s streaming app that lets regular pay-TV HBO subscribers watch over the internet. HBO Now is the channel’s stand-alone streaming app that lets people subscribe to and stream HBO without any pay-TV bundles — and it was largely replaced by HBO Max.

For people still using HBO Now, the change will be subtle: The app will continue to exist, just with a shorter name.

But the end of HBO Go could cause headaches for people who rely on that app to stream HBO programming through devices like Roku and Fire TV, which don’t have an HBO Max app available to replace HBO Go. Unless WarnerMedia reaches distribution deals with Roku and Amazon, people who use those devices won’t have a simple app to stream HBO as soon as Go is gone.

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.)

HBO Max will also have podcasts in its library that are based on its programming, along the lines of last year’s podcast companion to the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. HBO Max is 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.

The library also includes a trove of classic films curated by Turner Classic Movies.

In mid-June, 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” following an editorial in the Los Angeles Times written by Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley. He urged HBO Max to suspend streaming the film in the midst of worldwide protests against racism and police brutality, saying the movie romanticizes the horrors of slavery and perpetuates stereotypes of people of color. Gone With the Wind was restored to the catalog about two-and-a-half weeks later, prefaced with a video by Jacqueline Stewart, an African American cinema expert and TCM host, that explains the movie’s historical context and how it has been criticized for its depiction of slavery.

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 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 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. 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.) 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.

Another big hole? HBO Max doesn’t offer 4K resolution or high dynamic range image quality at launch. ‘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 stream HBO Max?

HBO Max is available on a wide variety of devices, including phones, tablets, the web, connected TVs and game consoles.

  • 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.

But two crucial streaming devices don’t have HBO Max apps. 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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