AT&T launched HBO Max in May 2020. The following May, it announced plans to get rid of WarnerMedia and HBO altogether. And 11 months later, HBO became part of the newly created Warner Bros. Discovery. But that’s not the confusing part. HBO Max is HBO’s third streaming service. Read on as our HBO Max review sets things straight and lays out what the service has to offer.
With nearly 50 years of high-quality content in its library, HBO Max is positioned to go toe-to-toe with Netflix, Hulu and other on-demand services. We’ll help you decide whether it’s worth adding to your streaming lineup.
Source: HBOTelecommunications giant AT&T acquired entertainment conglomerate Time Warner in June 2018, then promptly changed the name of the company to WarnerMedia. Less than 4 years later, AT&T exited the entertainment game and spun off WarnerMedia into a merger with Discover, Inc., and Warner Bros. Discovery was born. The new company owns HBO, as well as CNN, DC Entertainment and, of course, Discovery.
HBO Max launched under the old ownership but is clearly the way forward for the new. However, there are 2 other HBO streaming services that require clarification.
HBO Go launched in 2010 as a video-on-demand service for people already subscribed to HBO’s traditional pay-TV service. It’s since been discontinued and HBO subscribers now get access to HBO Max included.
A second streaming service, HBO Now, launched in 2015 as a standalone service that didn’t require an HBO subscription. It’s since been rebranded as simply “HBO” and is still available. It costs the same as HBO Max but offers much less, so it’s best to pretend it doesn’t exist. Or, as the HBO website puts it:
“You can subscribe to just HBO for $14.99/month — but you could get access to even more movies, series, and new Max Originals plus all of HBO, if you subscribe to HBO Max.”
Like Netflix, HBO Max had made the production of exclusive originals a top priority. The fact that a surprising number of these originals are animated shows might be interpreted as a direct challenge to Disney+.
The jewel in HBO Max’s crown is its HBO content. HBO Now doesn’t even give you full access to the HBO vault and it costs about twice as much as Netflix and Hulu, yet it still managed to score around five million subscribers anyway. The full HBO catalog could win over even more streamers, as can the addition of Warner Brothers’ massive movie vault. The acquisition of several hot properties from other production companies (Friends, Seinfeld, etc.) makes HBO Max look even more tempting.
After HBO Max gets rolling, it will dip its toe into the live TV space. That’s when things will really get interesting. Most live TV-focused streaming services cost upwards of $65/month. It’s highly likely that a huge percentage of their subscribers are primarily interested in news and sports. If HBO Max can offer even a basic news and sports package while maintaining the $15/month price point, it could manage to peel off a significant number of its competitors’ subscribers.
There’s a lot to like about HBO Max, especially in terms of content. There’s literally something for everyone: lots of cartoons for the kids, award-winning HBO dramas for the adults, tons of new and old Warner Brothers movies and more.
Its departure from AT&T also bodes well for the streaming service. Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels recently stated that the company’s 2 streaming services, HBO Max and Discovery Plus, will be merged into a single platform. That’s excellent news for cord-cutters looking for more family-friendly content – not something that HBO is particularly known for.
- Nearly 50 years of HBO’s award-winning content
- Strong lineup of animation
- Classics from the Turner Classic Movies vault
- Exclusive home of several iconic TV shows
- Live sports and TV are on the horizon
- Expensive compared to other on-demand services
- HBO Max is HBO’s third streaming app
There are currently 2 HBO Max plans, one with ads and one without.
The With Ads plan costs $9.99/month or $99.99/year, which is like getting 2 months free. The Ad-Free plan removes the commercials for $14.99/month or $149.99/year. The Ad-Free plan also lets you download content to watch offline and enables 4K streaming.
The price is considerably higher than other on-demand services such as Disney+ ($7.99/month), Showtime ($10.99/month), and Hulu, which costs $6.99/month with ads and $12.99/month without. However, it’s still 50 cents cheaper than Netflix’s $15.49/month Standard plan.
A high-level look at HBO Max’s originals reveals a noticeable focus on series and family-friendly content. This focus makes a lot of sense, considering that HBO’s back library provides plenty of entertainment for adults.
The animated Gremlins reboot, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, premiered last week and seems designed to appeal to both kids and adults. And Adventure Time: Distant Lands, a limited series of specials based on Adventure Time, will surely trigger nostalgia in older Millennials and Gen Xers.
Warner Brothers films
Warner Bros. can essentially do whatever it wants with DC comic book characters and stories. The fact that every single DC-related movie (except for the newest ones, of course) will be a part of the on-demand catalog is one of the service’s major draws. Other notable Warner Bros. films include the Matrix trilogy and the Lord of the Rings franchise.
Content from the Turner Classic Movies vault rounds out the catalog with classic movies from the past. Warner Bros. also owns Adult Swim, which is the company behind the surprise hit show Rick and Morty.
Content from other production companies
During its dalliance with the entertainment industry, AT&T signed deals with NBC to acquire the right to stream Friends and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You’ll also find the BBC’s Doctor Who, Luther, Top Gear, and Ricky Gervais’ original version of The Office on HBO Max. In addition, HBO Max will be the exclusive home of Comedy Central’s South Park.
One common complaint about HBO Now was its clunky interface. HBO Max’s interface seems to be much slicker and more responsive by comparison – proving that old adage about the third time being a charm.
The most interesting thing about HBO Max’s interface is a feature called Recommended by Humans. It lets HBO Max users create content lists and share them with the public. Various celebrities provide lists of their favorite HBO Max shows and movies. There’s even a subdomain on HBO’s website where you can check it out.
HBO Max’s list of supported devices isn’t as robust as some streaming services, but it should be good for most people. While it might not cover a lot of streaming devices, it does have a dedicated app for the 3 major computer operating systems.
- Computer: Mac app, Windows app, Chromebook app, Web browsers
- Mobile: Android, iOS, Fire Tablets
- Streaming: Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku
- Gaming: PlayStation, Xbox
- TVs: Android TV, Hisense, LG, Samsung, Vizio
- Cable set-top boxes: Cox, Spectrum, Xfinity
The $9.99/month With Ads plan doesn’t let you download content to watch offline, but you can with the Ad-Free option for $14.99/month. This makes it perfect for long flights or when you’re going someplace without internet access.
If HBO Now’s support site is any indication of what HBO Max’s support site will offer, you can expect above-average customer support features. In addition to the standard self-service ticket system and knowledge base, HBO Now offers live phone and chat support. The support team also answers questions via Twitter and other social networks.
The most important part of any streaming service is its content library. HBO Max is very strong in that respect. For many, the HBO vault alone will be worth it. After all, HBO helped usher in the Golden Age of Television. The people behind HBO continue to make great decisions in terms of content development, as evidenced by the massive success that was Game of Thrones.
While other streaming services have been losing subscribers – most notably Netflix, whose loss of 200,000 customers marked its first decline in over a decade – HBO and HBO Max were up nearly 13 million subscribers for the year. That’s a sign that it’s doing something right.