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Setting up their battle lines in the so-called streaming wars, HBO Max is the weapon of choice for HBO and looks strikingly similar to rival services such as Peacock and Disney Plus. AT&T’s WarnerMedia is behind HBO Max and has a strong arsenal of hit series and big movies, with extra fire-power in the form of big-budget exclusive originals that are filled with big-name stars.  

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What really sets HBO Max apart from other services is the high price tag; it’s the most expensive of all the newly launched services.  

A subscription costs $15 per month in the US, and you can sign up from sometime in May. Some existing HBO subscribers will get Max included at no extra cost, but it’s not for everyone. There’s going to be a lower-tier service that includes advertising within the first year of launch, it’s either going to be cheaper or free but there’s nothing solid coming from the company. 

The streaming wars, as the last six months have been dubbed, sees HBO Max as the last entrant into the arena. It seems every tech and entertainment giant is trying to muscle in on Netflix with its own video-streaming subscription services. Little wonder, with 167 million international subscribers, Netflix has been at the vanguard of the switch over to streaming TV. 

The first teaser for HBO Max was dropped in February, with a montage of clips from some of the shows and movies you’re going to get access to. What was noticeable was the lack of any fresh, original content that the company is promising you will be able to stream.  

Bets on are to see which of titles on the roster for HBO Max, known as Max Originals, will be their biggest hit. What do they hope will be their version of Baby Yoda and The Mandalorian?

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With the ability to tap into the DC universe or launch a Game of Thrones prequel, the owner of HBO Max, AT&T, has put up a budget of billions of dollars to create original programming as well as secure the rights to popular reruns like The Big Bang Theory and Friends. HBO Max is even going to be the home of the newly announced, unscripted Friends reunion with the original cast.

What’s the price of HBO Max?

You’re being asked to pay $15 per month when the service launches. 

The company has said that within the first twelve months there will be a lower-tier launched. On this platform, there’s going to be advertising, but the price and any content restrictions haven’t yet been confirmed, although it should be cheaper if not completely free.  

The service offered as a stand-alone HBO stream, HBO Now, also costs $15 per month. This service isn’t quite going away, but the new HBO Max is pretty much a direct replacement. Anyone who has HBO Now won’t be forced to change, but it makes sense to switch over to HBO Max since the price is the same and there’s more content available. Everything from HBO Now will be on Max, plus more exclusive originals and a decent catalog of licensed programming. 

The price is pretty hefty when you look at rival streaming services that have come before HBO Max. For Disney Plus you pay $7 per month and for Apple TV it’s just $5 each time. Those prices can also be discounted and there are opportunities for extended free periods lasting up to one year. As an example, Apple will give you a year’s free subscription if you’ve bought an Apple device since early September. If you’re a Verizon subscriber, you get a year free on Disney Plus.  

A limited set of people that already subscribe to HBO can unlock access to HBO Max without paying any more, but it’s not universal. HBO Now subscribers get a free upgrade to HBO Max and if you already subscribe to HBO through AT&T you also get it for free. Basically, that means if you get HBO through DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T TV Now, AT&T TV and AT&T wireless users who can add HBO with certain unlimited plans, you get HBO Max for free. 

If you get your HBO through a different pay-TV provider, it’s not quite clear if you’re going to get HBO Max included in the package. Nothing is certain, whether you get HBO through the old-school providers like Spectrum, Dish Network, or Comcast, or an internet-based company like Amazon Prime Video Channels, Apple TV Channels, Hulu, or The Roku Channel. At the launch presentation for HBO Max back in October, AT&T said that it was still talking with other pay-TV companies about whether they could offer HBO Max to standard HBO customers.

When Do I Get to Start Watching HBO Max?

There’s no specific date yet, but you can expect HBO Max to be available around May in the US. 

Next will be the international expansion, with markets in Latin America and Europe taking priority. The company has confirmed that HBO Max will reach Latin America in 2021. 

There has been a long list of streaming services launching over recent months, at HBO Max looks to be one of the last in the line. November saw the launch of Disney Plus and Apple TV and April 6 is slated for the launch of Quibi, a streaming service for mobile devices that’s backed by Hollywood bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg. The focus of the service is going to be on short episodes of original content that’s only available on phones.

April 15 will see the launch of Comcast’s NBCUniversal streaming service called Peacock, available for Comcast’s Xfinity 1 customers and Flex subscribers on cable and streaming respectively.  

After the May rollout of HBO Max, Peacock is set to go nationwide on July 15, just in time for the summer Olympics.

What Can I Watch?

The content you can access on HBO Max is varied, to say the least. 

You’ll get access to all the normal shows and movies from HBO when you subscribe to HBO Max, and there’s a decent selection of licensed content including Friends, The Big Bang Theory, South Park, and Rick & Morty. Added on top of that, there will be original programming, with 31 productions within the first year and that’s going to increase up to 50 original shows in the second year.  

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The easiest part of the line-up to get to grips with is the standard HBO fayre. When you get HBO Max you’re getting everything that’s available on standard HBO: all the theatrical movies that show up on the channel; recent episodes for the series broadcast on HBO like Watchmen, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Westworld, Sesame Street, etc; the complete back catalog of each of those programs; and the full HBO universe of content, like Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, The Wire, Veep, and all of the original documentaries, specials, and films that they’ve produced.  

Next comes everything that AT&T has been buying up licenses to make the HBO Max catalog nice and juicy. Some of the biggest acquisitions have been:

  • Poaching 90s show Friends from Netflix in a deal reported to be worth $425million
  • The Big Bang Theory will stream, at a reported cost of $500million

Past seasons of Rick & Morty have been secured, as have the 11 most recent seasons of Doctor Who along with the next three still to be made. It’s also picked up CW dramas like Batwoman, Pretty Little Liars, and Katy Keene, the Riverdale spinoff. Future CW series that are also in the bag include The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The West Wing, and plenty more besides.  

South Park, the animated satire, is coming along for the ride on HBO Max, with all previous episodes available to stream, along with whatever comes next. You’ll be able to get the latest episode 24 hours after it has debuted on Comedy Central for the upcoming three seasons. 

Added to all that, there are going to be original movies and shows on HBO Max, to be known as Max Originals.  

For the series on HBO Max, there will be weekly episodes released, usually. In the year it launches there’s going to be 31 original series produced, making a total of 69 series when you include the standard HBO content. For 2021 Max Originals will expand to a total of 50 new shows. Out of the originals, around half are going to be aimed at the 16-34-year-old age bracket, with the rest divvied up between programming for older adults and child-friendly family content outside of HBO branding.

Some of the hottest announcements that we’ve had so far about the original series’ for HBO Max include:

  • New titles from the DC universe, including a top-secret Green Lantern series. The producer behind young-adult hits like Riverdale and Arrow, Greg Berlanti, has said that the series will head to space and “promises to be our biggest DC show ever made.” Strange Adventures is going to be a drama anthology of hour-long episodes exploring how the loves of superhumans and mere mortals intersect, also produced by Berlanti. Elizabeth Banks, famed for the Hunger Games movies and 30 Rock, is also making a comedy series called DC Super Hero High with half-hour episodes. The show will follow a group of teens at a boarding school for kids with “gifts”.
  • Ridley Scott is making a sci-fi epic over 10 episodes, called Raised by Wolves. The filmmaker is known for hits like Alien, The Martian, and Blade Runner, and this time around will follow the story of two androids that have to raise human children on an unknown planet. “As the burgeoning colony of humans threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task,” goes the spiel from the company. Filming took place in South Africa and wrapped recently.
  • J.J. Abrams is in on the Max Originals action. His contribution hasn’t been confirmed yet, but he’s behind a string of TV and movie hits and has signed up with AT&T and WarnerMedia so is set to make a contribution to HBO Max’s listings.
  • The actress and producer Issa Rae is making a thirty-minute comedy called Rap Sh*t. It’s going to explore the Miami music industry through the prism of three women: a hustling manager and her fledgling hip-hop duo.
  • Mindy Kaling is working on a half-hour comedy show with the working title of College Girls, which will follow freshman roommates at a college in Vermont.
  • Animation makes it on the roster, with two reimagining seasons of The Boondocks, plus a special lasting 50 minutes slated for fall 2020.
  • More animation comes in the form of Jellystone, featuring classic characters from the Hanna-Barbera stable.
  • Cartoon Network Studios is making another animated series for HBO Max called The Fungies and Tig N’Seek, plus a new live-action/animation hybrid experiment called Tooned Out being made by the Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis.
  • Conan O’Brien is working with the team behind his TBS show to make comedy specials. In development are five stand-up specials with O’Brien hosting two of them which will include short sets from lots of fresh comedy talent, along with three shows of an hour by three popular comedians. Adding to the comedy is an hour-long special from the comedian James Veitch.

Somewhere between five and ten original movies will be produced each year, with notable highlights already confirmed as:

  • Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine is making two movies.
  • An Anthony Bourdain documentary.
  • The aforementioned Berlanti has signed up for four pictures, with the first one being Unpregnant, where two teens on a New Mexico road trip find out one of them is pregnant. The story is based on the Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan young adult novel.
  • Melissa McCarthy will star in Super Intelligence, a comedy exploring the life of a woman who is chosen to have her love-life monitored by AI.
  • Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez will star in a comedy about a bright young lawyer making a break into a stuffy law firm in Boston.

Another important element of the HBO Max catalog is going to be the 18,000 movies that have been licensed. Along with them, any movie that’s normally watchable through the standard HBO network will be online for streaming on HBO Max. Some highlights of the movie catalog include:

  • The full set of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the Matrix trilogies.
  • The Lego movies.
  • 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.
  • Classic movies like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Shining, A Star is Born, Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey and many others.
  • Newer hits like Crazy Rich Asians.

Joan E. Solsman wrote the original version of this article for cnet

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