AT&T Time Warner subsidiary WarnerMedia hosted an hours-long presentation on Tuesday to confirm everything under the sun about HBO Max, the company’s new streaming-video service slated to launch next year. We had already seen a number of announcements about existing and classic series coming to the service, but now we know its launch window and price: $14.99/month, starting in May 2020.
Let’s start with some asterisks on that price point. While $15 is the highest point in the current streaming-video fray, AT&T Time Warner already charges $15/mo for HBO Now, and HBO Max will effectively make the existing service redundant. Should you already pay for HBO as part of an AT&T cable-TV subscription package, you’ll get HBO Max access for free. However, that may not be the case if you pay for HBO through other cable providers; “we are in active discussions with our distributors and look forward to offering their customers seamless access to this great product,” the company said in a statement.
Meanwhile, if you don’t pay for HBO but subscribe to any of AT&T’s “premium video, mobile, and broadband services,” you might be offered free HBO Max service… if you upgrade to a new AT&T bundle package “at no additional charge.” Whether those new bundles will require specific terms or additional purchases remains unclear, however.
After its paid launch in 2020, WarnerMedia plans to launch an “ad-supported” version of HBO Max in 2021, but the company wasn’t ready to reveal how that would work (ie, whether such a product would combine a monthly fee and advertisements a la the ad-supported Hulu tier). In terms of regions, WarnerMedia says HBO Max will premiere in the US in 2020 and will expand to Latin America and Europe by 2025. (Really? No hints about Canada yet?)
We already knew that HBO Max had secured the streaming rights to TV series like Friends and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, along with a truckload of content from the likes of BBC America. The past week has seen WarnerMedia announce a bunch of new, original direct-to-Max content, and the company capped off its Tuesday event with a few more announcements.
Arguably the biggest, albeit least surprising, was official word that a previously announced Game of Thrones prequel series has a name: House of the Dragon. As anticipated, this series, which has at least one ten-episode season on order, will be based on the 2018 George R. R. Martin book, Fire & Blood, so it will revolve around the history of House Targaryen 300 years before the events of the primary Game of Thrones book and TV series.
Multiple prequel projects had been rumored, however, and it’s unclear whether to expect others. (In fact, on Tuesday, we heard word that one rumored prequel project was canceled before being officially announced.) WarnerMedia did not confirm whether House of the Dragon, or any of the company’s other freshly announced shows and one-off specials, would be ready in time for the service’s May 2020 launch.
HBO Max finally claimed dibs on Raised by Wolves, a ten-episode TV series from showrunner and Director Ridley Scott, which had originally been pegged as a TNT original series. Meanwhile, the company’s comic-minded teams at DC Entertainment showed up to announce a few live-action HBO Max exclusives, including a high-school drama produced by Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), a superhero anthology series with criss-crossing tales, and a very vaguely worded “Green Lantern-inspired series.” (This three-series coup, on top of other DC-related exclusives on HBO Max, sure make us wonder how long the standalone DC Universe streaming service will last.)
In addition to today’s list of new series, WarnerMedia announced the following existing series would become streaming exclusives on HBO Max during its “first year” of operation: South Park, Rick & Morty, The O.C., Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Robot Chicken, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, The Bachelor, Impractical Jokers, The Closer, Rizzolli and Isles, Major Crimes, The Alienist, The West Wing, United Shades of America with Kamau Bell, This is Life with Lisa Ling, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Of everything on that list, South Park is arguably the biggest WarnerMedia coup, since that likely means a deal was worked out with Viacom—which already operates CBS All Access, itself a paid streaming-video service.
Really, thinking about the ecosystem of existing streaming services leads us to ask: will HBO Max land with a bang or a thud? By the time May 2020 rolls around, we will have already seen months of activity from this November’s new services, Apple TV+ and Disney+, not to mention the April 2020 launch of NBC Peacock. Will the “costs the same as HBO Now” argument help WarnerMedia’s new service rise to the top of the competitive streaming pool? We suppose that depends on whether potential subscribers have been sharing accounts this whole time.