HBO will soon have a third streaming service – to sit alongside HBO Now and HBO Go – called HBO Max, which it hopes will rival the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. It’ll have just about everything HBO’s ever released, along with new exclusives, the Warner Bros. back catalogue, and even a few other wins like Friends or the Studio Ghibli movies.
HBO Max hasn’t launched yet, but here’s what we know so far about what to expect.
What is HBO Max?
HBO Max will be a single streaming platform that will not only include all of HBO’s own original content – from shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld to a range of movies – but also new original material and content from owner WarnerMedia’s other services.
You can get a pretty good idea of the main pitch from this trailer for the service:
When is HBO Max launching?
HBO Max will launch in May 2020, but a more specific date hasn’t been announced yet. In the meantime, HBO Go and HBO Now are both around already – and we’ll go into more on how the services differ below.
There’s a worry that the service’s launch might be delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s partly because it was intended to launch with the giant coup of a one-off reunion special of Friends, but filming on that was postponed as a result of the virus, with the production apparently delayed until at least May.
You’d think that the show would go on without Friends, but an HBO statement insisted that “at this point, we anticipate launching HBO Max with the Friends Reunion Special.” Does that mean that the production delay won’t last until May, or that the service’s launch will be delayed until it can debut with its biggest draw? The latter seems unlikely, but there are few TV events as big as the Friends reunion this year, so all bets are off.
How much will it cost?
The service will cost $14.99 per month, but will be offered free to existing HBO subscribers on AT&T and HBO Now direct billing customers, while customers who subscribe to AT&T’s premium video, mobile and broadband packages will be offered HBO Max bundles at launch at no additional cost. Charter’s Spectrum cable customers who have HBO in their package will also get the service for free.
That’s the same price as the existing HBO Now service, and HBO Max is set to include all that content and more, so it’s impressive that HBO has kept pricing the same.
It’s rumoured that the company is also developing a cheaper ad-supported version of the service, similar to the ad-enabled Hulu subscription, but if this does ever come to fruition it wouldn’t launch until 2021, a year after the main HBO Max launch. This ad-supported version could reportedly cost as little as $8 a month, and would be notable for essentially being the first time that HBO has ever delivered its customers ads.
Is HBO Max coming to the UK?
HBO hasn’t announced any release beyond North America, but in all honesty we’d be very surprised if HBO Max came to the UK. Neither of the companies other streaming services are available in the UK, and instead it has lucrative deals with Sky to make HBO content available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV – those deals mean that it’s very unlikely we’ll see HBO Max here.
A UK launch got even less likely when Sky announced an extension of its “multi-year programming partnership” with HBO in October 2019, “meaning Sky and NOW TV customers will be able to enjoy award-winning content from HBO and Warner Bros. … for many years to come,” according to a Sky press release. That announcement even specifically cited HBO Max in reference to new co-productions between Sky and HBO Max, following previous co-productions including Chernobyl and Catherine the Great.
So essentially there’s almost no chance that HBO Max will come to the UK, but it’s likely that most, if not all, of the original exclusives will come to Sky and Now TV. There are also various ways to watch HBO from the UK, and most of those will still apply when HBO Max launches, so there will almost certainly be some way or other to watch any HBO Max exclusives wherever you are.
What shows and films will be on HBO Max?
We already know that Friends will be leaving US Netflix to move over the HBO Max – and even getting a one-off special reunion episode – and that other ’90s favourite The Fresh Prince of Bel Air will also be on the platform, along with The Big Bang Theory. HBO has commissioned multiple new movies, with plans for more films and TV shows, and it’s using HBO Max as an excuse to ramp up its original content ambitions, with TV shows on the way including Dune: The Sisterhood, a Gremlins animated series, a rom-com anthology series from Anna Kendrick called Love Life, and a Grease series called Grease: Rydell High.
At San Diego Comic-Con it was also announced that the DC Universe show Doom Patrol would become an HBO Max co-production, with season two airing simultaneously on both streaming services, and the first season arriving in its entirety when HBO Max launches. It won’t be the only DC content either – not only will Arrowverse producer Greg Berlanti put together a Green Lantern series and an anthology show called Strange Adventures, the platform will also have 40 years of classic DC movies, including all the old Batman and Superman movies.
HBO has also signed a deal with the BBC to get exclusive US streaming rights to a whole range of British shows, including modern Doctor Who (from 2005 onwards), the Office (UK version), Luther, Top Gear, and more. The deal even includes new episodes of Doctor Who going forwards – though they’ll still be broadcast on BBC America first.
That’s not even the biggest exclusive HBO has landed from other creators: that’s probably the entire Studio Ghibli collection. In a landmark deal, HBO will have exclusive US streaming rights to all 20 existing Ghibli movies – including Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro – along with the upcoming The Wind Rises. This is the first time all the Ghibli’s have been available to stream in one place in the US, making the deal even more remarkable – though the rest of the world gets them all on Netflix.
There’ll be kids TV too, anchored by iconic brand Sesame Street. This started airing on HBO back in 2015, but from 2020 onwards (well, for five years at least) a new deal will see new Sesame Street episodes air exclusively on HBO Max, along with four new Sesame Street shows including an Elmo-led late night talk show parody. Plus, all 50 seasons of Sesame Street’s back catalogue will be available to watch, including some that have never been available on-demand before.
Another kids’ favourite making an exclusive appearance: Adventure Time. HBO Max has commissioned four one-hour specials from the creators of the recently cancelled show, dubbed Adventure Time: Distant Lands.
In terms of more adult animation, South Park will be exclusively available on HBO Max, with all the existing episodes plus new episodes 24 hours after they air, while Rick and Morty will also be on the service – though not exclusively.
The service has also commissioned Equal, a four-part docuseries from Scout Productions about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement. Variety stated that the series will include interviews with activists such as Harry Hay, reenactments, never-before seen footage and deep dives into events like the Stonewall Riots.
HBO Max vs HBO Now vs HBO Go
There’s one final potential confusion worth clearing up: the difference between HBO Now, HBO Go, and HBO Max.
For reasons best known to itself, HBO currently operates two separate streaming services which offer almost identical features and interfaces, with HBO Max now on the way. The main difference right now is how you pay for them: HBO Now is a standalone service that anyone can sign up to for $15 a month, while HBO Go is provided to existing HBO cable subscribers free of charge.
If you’re not in the US you’re almost certainly not paying for HBO on cable, so you won’t be able to sign up for HBO Go anyway. However, if you are a US cable subscriber who’s staying or living abroad, you should be able to access HBO Go through a VPN just as you can with HBO Now.
HBO Max will be closest to HBO Now, as it will be a standalone service, not limited to existing cable customers. However, as already mentioned it will also include additional content that isn’t originally from HBO, along with all of the new exclusive shows and films.