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HBO Max: Everything to know about HBO’s bigger, newer streaming app

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HBO Max has a $15 price tag, and it’s effectively replaced HBO Go and HBO Now — but there are some big gaps. The biggest: Max still isn’t on Roku or Amazon Fire TV.

HBO Max launched in May.

HBO Max, the streaming service from AT&T’s WarnerMedia, features an all the regular network’s programming plus an amped-up library of extra shows, movies and originals that you can’t get elsewhere, but it also comes with some confusion: How much will it cost you specifically? What’s happened to HBO Now and HBO Go? And why can’t people watch it on Roku or Fire TV

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. Generally, HBO Max 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. Some (but not all) current HBO customers can get HBO Max at no added cost. 

And HBO’s various apps — HBO Go, HBO Now and now HBO Max — were winnowed down Saturday. The company got rid of HBO Go, and HBO Now became a renamed app simply called HBO. At the end of the changes, the company will have just two apps: An HBO app, which is $15 a month and is limited to programming on the regular network for people who pay for the app directly, and then HBO Max, which is also $15 a month but with double the shows and movies. 

But those changes create some headaches for Roku and Amazon Fire TV users. Because it failed to secure distribution deals, HBO Max isn’t available to stream on those devices. And they’re the most popular streaming devices in the country. Roku and Amazon Fire TV together represented 70% of the streaming devices in the US last year. 

Anybody who currently streams HBO Go on a Roku or Fire TV is left in the lurch. Without Max, which is the app meant to effectively replace Go, people who use those devices need to jump through some hoops to stream HBO now that Go is gone. (See the device support section below for more details.)

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 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 PotterStudio Ghibli and the Criterion Collection, as well as popular shows like Friends, The Big Bang TheoryRick 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 based on its programming, along the lines of last year’s podcast companion to the miniseries Chernobyl. It’s 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. 

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 had 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 is adding 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 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 or Amazon. 

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 directly instead. 

This confusion may be a factor in HBO Max’s difficulty getting current HBO pay-TV subscribers to sign up for Max, even if they already qualify for an upgrade at no added cost. Only about 1.1 million people have activated a Max account by upgrading their existing HBO service that they pay for through a regular TV provider. That’s out of more than 30 million current HBO customers that potentially qualify for a free upgrade. All they’d have to do is download the app, log in and watch — but millions aren’t so far. 

Overall, about 4.1 million accounts have signed up for HBO Max in its first month. That’s far less than the more than 10 million sign-ups Disney Plus reported in little more than 24 hours after its launch in November. But people who are using HBO Max seem to like it: People are spending 70% more time watching Max than they did HBO Now, the company’s previous standalone streaming app, based on average hours spent viewing per week.

One thing that would get more people flocking to HBO Max during the coronavirus pandemic would be premiering big-budget movies like Tenet or Wonder Woman 1984 there. 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 In July. 

But HBO Max won’t premiere Warner Bros.’ Tenet on the streaming service, and AT&T indicated that other movies, like Wonder Woman 1984, likely won’t end up on the streaming service until long after theatrical release, whenever that happens. While the company may move some films off its theatrical slate and onto HBO Max instead, AT&T’s CEO said this would be content “on the margins.”

Another big hole? HBO Max doesn’t offer 4K resolution or 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 all complicated. Below are the finer details about HBO Max’s cost, discounts, app and its shows and movies.

HBO Max is available on a wide variety of devices, including phones, tablets, the web, connected TVs and game consoles — but it’s missing apps on Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

But two crucial streaming devices don’t have HBO Max. 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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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 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 partly stems from Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, which is 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.”

By late July, AT&T was firing back at Amazon — but staying silent on Roku. “We’ve tried repeatedly to make HBO Max available to all customers using Amazon Fire devices, including those customers that have purchased HBO via Amazon,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said, referring to people who pay for HBO using Amazon Channels. “Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently [from] how they’ve chosen to treat other services and their customers.”

HBO Max said Thursday that it has nothing new to share. “We continue to work hard to reach agreements with the few outstanding distribution partners left to bring all of HBO Max to customers on platforms,” a spokeswoman said. Previously, HBO Max has said it has apps for Roku and Fire TV ready to go. But the service must work out deals with both companies first. 

The sunsetting of HBO Go and rebranding of HBO Now on Saturday set up difficulties for some Roku and Amazon Fire TV users. Anybody who currently streams HBO Go on a Roku or Fire TV will be left in the lurch, without much guidance about how to cope. 

For legacy HBO Now customers, you shouldn’t notice much difference. You should be able to log in to the HBO app with the same credentials you previously used for HBO Now. 

But what do you do if you relied on HBO Go to stream on a Roku or Fire TV?

If you’re in this group, the good news is you can unlock the newly renamed HBO app, but you need to jump through some hoops first. AT&T pseudo-collapsed HBO Go and HBO Now together into the rebranded HBO app. While this app won’t have any of the extra originals, shows or movies that you get with HBO Max, you’ll still be able to continue streaming regular HBO programming with it on Roku and Fire TV. 

But for legacy HBO Go customers, you need to upgrade your HBO account for HBO Max. Once you register an email address and password with HBO Max, you can use your HBO Max credentials to sign in to the newly rebranded HBO app on both Roku and Amazon Fire TV.  

In addition, Roku noted that people who pay for HBO through Comcast, Charter or AT&T TV can stream HBO on the Comcast Xfinity Stream, Spectrum TV and AT&T TV apps too. Amazon didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. 

HBO Max is $15 a month at launch with a seven-day free trial. 

AT&T’s CEO John Stankey has 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 didn’t qualify for the seven-day free trial. 

HBO’s legacy standalone streaming service — HBO Now, to be rebranded as simply HBO– also cost $15 a month. Though HBO Now will continue to operate under the streamlined name HBO, HBO Max essentially replaces it. 

Legacy HBO Now subscribers are welcome to stick with that service, but they’ll essentially be paying the same amount for less programming. On mobile, the HBO Max app effectively replaced the HBO Now app through automatic software update on Apple and Android phones and tablets.         

Compared with rival streaming services launching before HBO Max, that pricing may feel steep. Disney Plus is $7 a month, and Apple TV Plus is $5. Both are offering deals that can cut the price further or offering extended free periods to some customers. 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. 

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

Legacy HBO Now subscribers through Apple or Google barely needed to do anything to unlock HBO Max. The HBO Now app was automatically replaced by the HBO Max app via a software update on those mobile devices that support HBO Max. In those cases, when you open the new HBO Max app, you just need to agree to the HBO Max Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and choose to “Access All of HBO Max,” and you’re set, according to an HBO Now support page.

Some HBO Max distributors unlock an HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost for any current HBO and legacy 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: 

However, it’s unclear if HBO Max will strike more deals with other pay-TV providers, whether that’s traditional providers like Dish 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

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 before launching nationally July 15. 

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 at launch. 

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. 

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 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 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 not necessarily be available at launch):

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:

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: 

After launch, Max subsequently released more Originals, including: 

Then over the course of the fall and beyond, HBO Max will add other originals, including: 

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: 

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: 

Right now HBO has three total streaming apps: HBO Max, HBO Now and HBO Go. But the company is getting rid of HBO Go as of July 31, and its renaming HBO Now as simply HBO. So, once the changes are complete, it will have only two streaming apps: HBO Max and HBO. 

HBO Max is similar to the legacy HBO Go and HBO Now apps but with additional programming and more product features. Generally speaking, HBO Now and HBO Go were roughly the same product. The main difference is who uses them: HBO Now was the network’s stand-alone streaming app that let anyone sign up for $15 a month without needing to be part of a pay-TV package, 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 streamed all the programming available on WarnerMedia’s traditional HBO network. 

Most legacy HBO Now customers can switch over to HBO Max for no additional cost. Most Now users who want to upgrade to Max just need to accept the terms of service, a privacy policy and a selection confirming they want the expanded catalog. 

For HBO Go users, it’s more complicated. HBO Go is unlocked by a pay-TV subscription, but 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.)

WarnerMedia’s decision to get rid of HBO Go as of July 31 also complicates matters for people who use that app to stream with Roku, Amazon Fire TV or any other devices that don’t support HBO Max. Unless HBO Max reaches deals with those companies, people who rely on HBO Go to stream HBO programming with a Roku or Fire TV won’t have a simple app to do it once HBO Go is retired. To watch on TVs, these HBO pay-TV subscribers will need to watch HBO through their cable, satellite or other input, or through their pay-TV operator’s own app, if one exists.

AT&T itself 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.

Simple, right?

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