HBO Max, AT&T's bet-the-farm streaming service, is about to take on Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu. It has a lot going for it: a deep content vault and the exclusive streaming home for DC superheroes, Turner Classic Movies and some of the world's most celebrated TV shows. But it comes with a hefty price tag.
The service launches Wednesday in the United States. Here's everything you need to know about HBO Max.
What is it?
HBO Max is AT&T's answer to Netflix. (AT&T owns WarnerMedia, CNN's parent company).
It's a streaming service that has programming from three main sources: the company's premium cable network, HBO; the company's nearly 100-year-old film and television studio, Warner Bros.; and cable channels including TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, TruTV and Turner Classic Movies.
HBO Max isn't just focusing on content, however. It's also focusing on personalization. That's not unique to HBO, of course, but the company believes its recommendation engine will be better than the competition.
Bob Greenblatt, WarnerMedia's chairman of entertainment and direct-to-consumer, told investors last year that the service will help consumers cut through the options by offering recommendations made by people rather than solely relying on an algorithm.
"We're striving to make HBO Max extremely engaging and easy to navigate," he said. "As we perfect our product over time, the long-term goal is to set the new standard for speaking personally to our subscribers."
How much does it cost?
The service costs $14.99 a month.
At that price point, HBO Max costs twice as much as Disney+ and more than Neflix's standard plan, which costs $12.99 per month.
For existing HBO customers who are paying $15 per month, the service will be available at no extra charge, depending how you subscribe to HBO. HBO Now, the network's current streaming service, costs the same as HBO Max.
What does it offer?
So, what will HBO Max subscribers get for $15 a month? About 10,000 hours of programming. That's less than most of its competitors.
But it has a large number of compelling offerings, including blockbusters like "Joker," "The Matrix," and "The Lord of the Rings" series as well as classics like "The Wizard of Oz," "When Harry Met Sally" and "Casablanca."
Most notably, the service will be the home of "Friends," one of the most popular sitcoms in TV history.
The service will also have new series called "Max Originals," beloved shows like "The Big Bang Theory," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "South Park" and "Gossip Girl," and children's programming from Looney Tunes, Cartoon Network and "Sesame Street." Obviously, HBO series — both new and old — will be a major part of the service which will include "Game of Thrones," "Westworld," "Sex and the City" and "Succession."
As for HBO Max's movie lineup, the streaming service will be home to more than 2,000 films within its first year.
Will it work?
HBO Max has been the biggest priority for WarnerMedia and its parent company AT&T since the telecom giant completed its acquisition of Time Warner in 2018. AT&T said last year that it intends to spend about $2 billion on HBO Max in the next two years.
But the service is facing big challenges. HBO Max is entering a crowded field and is asking consumers to spend more than they would for many of its streaming competitors.
"While HBO benefited from a narrow focus on high quality content, HBO Max is using a Netflix-like approach of trying to be all things to all people. This is very difficult to do, and the lack of focus could ultimately be an impediment to growth," Bernie McTernan, a senior analyst at Rosenblatt Securities, told CNN Business. "The price also presents a higher burden, especially when you compare it to the cost of something like Disney+."
HBO Max is also launching in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which could have a positive impact on the service, according to McTernan.
"If they have compelling content out of the gate, I think this is a good time for HBO Max to launch with streaming usage soaring," he added.
Related: Reviewing 10 offerings on new mobile platform Quibi
MOST DANGEROUS GAME
Liam Hemsworth stars as a father-to-be with huge bills and a terminal illness in this high-end thrilling series that feels like watching a big-budget film. Christoph Waltz plays a man with an intriguing offer for our hero: Be prey for a bunch of hunters and leave your wife and child millions. The idea of hunting humans for sport has a long history, and this series comes just a few weeks after the clunky film "The Hunt" was released. But this Quibi version is a masterclass in how the medium can create gripping yet tiny chapters.
Each episode of this very adult and harrowing tale is engrossing and perfectly paced. Sophie Turner stars as a young woman with suicidal tendencies who survives a plane crash and fights to stay alive in a snowy wasteland alongside another passenger played by Corey Hawkins. It looks and feels like prestige Hollywood fare, and Turner is superb as a woman haunted by her own illness.
This engrossing crime drama centers on a fast food worker who we meet zooming through the back streets of New Orleans with what seems like every city officer on his tail. He's been set up by police on a drug deal and takes refuge inside his apartment building with his girlfriend and child. Each episode is tense and raw, with references to Black Lives Matter and a nod to the power of social media. It stars Stephan James as Rayshawn and an understated Laurence Fishburne as a sympathetic beat cop. The show is like a bag of chips: You can't stop after just a few episodes.
Seeing the rich and famous get pranked is always fun and it gets next level in a revival of "Punk'd." Old host Ashton Kutcher has been replaced by Chance the Rapper, whose easy charm and good-natured humor is a key reason this series works. Some of the elaborate set-ups include Megan Thee Stallion frightened by a gorilla, performer Sabrina Carpenter finding her home infested by rats, and internet phenom Liza Koshy destroying a bat mitzvah. Other targets include Lil Nas X, Ty Dolla $ign, Adam Devine, Migos and French Montana.
Chrissy Teigen as a judge? Why not? The model wears a robe and waves a gavel in a series of small claim cases — one features two boyfriends fighting over one of them buying the wrong silly sweater for someone — that don't have any of the testiness of "The People's Court." Things are so relaxed that Teigen's mother acts as the bailiff. Teigen is funny and patient and actually a pretty good judge. And, yes, hubby John Legend does show up sometimes. "Can I have one thing to myself ever?" she asks him.
MURDER HOUSE FLIP
Home renovation takes a dark turn in this series that sees notorious sites of violence get a makeover. "Murder and makeover don't usually go together. But now that's all going to change," says designer Joelle Uzyel in the first episode. It's macabre and, at times, almost seems to mock HGTV's huge swath of programming. But the result of the first makeover (which takes three episodes) is breathtaking. The funnest part is watching the prim and elegant designer Mike Welch gradually lose his calm. "Dismembered?" he asks in horror when told what happened years ago at his new work site.
Young sports phenoms are the subjects of this series, hosted with a very light hand by soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Each documentary-style episode features interviews and competition footage of the stars, including of boxer Chantel Navarro, Olympic gold medal snowboarder Red Gerard and football player Korey Foreman. The portraits are deeply moving and personal, even if they have a tendency to veer toward adoration. Rapinoe only appears at the beginning of each episode to introduce the young athlete. Then she's gone, which seems a waste.
THE SHAPE OF PASTA
Foodies should bite on this well-made travelogue, as chef Evan Funke goes to Italy to find some of the more unique and forgotten shapes of pasta. That sounds a little ridiculous for a premise, but the filmmakers prove respectful and loving of the topic, sucking you in. In the first episode, Funke goes to a tiny Southern town where their handmade shape is going extinct. "We are trying to preserve the shape. It's our identity," he is told. The show is beautifully shot but comes with a warning: If you tune in, you'll crave just one thing for dinner.
THANKS A MILLION
Jennifer Lopez leads this cringe-worthy show that really only rich people who want everyone to know they have a heart of gold would appreciate. Celebs give $100,000 to someone who touched their lives. Those people must then give half to someone else, so the celebrity can create "a chain of gratitude and kindness." In Lopez's case, she gives the money — inelegantly, stacks of bills — to a mom with a girl with cerebral palsy. "You're so cute!" the girl says to Lopez. Unfortunately this back-slapping show has attracted the likes of Kristen Bell, Nick Jonas, Tracy Morgan, Aaron Rodgers, Kevin Hart and Karlie Kloss. Even the title is disingenuous.
SKRRT WITH OFFSET
This is another celebrity vanity project that'll leave you scratching your head. Offset, a member of Migos — and husband of Cardi B — has decided to show off his love of cars. In the first episode, he puts kids with cancer in tiny model supercars, like a McLaren P1 with a top speed of 4 mph. Why, you may ask, put confused, sick children in model Ferraris? They don't even control the cars. But Offset and Cardi B are happy to take a victory lap. The second episode is all about Offset and Lil Yachty attempting Hollywood driving stunts. In the third, Offset visits Jay Leno and tours his vast car collection. The whole series looks a lot of fun for everyone but Offset.
One of the odder shows has a ferociously upbeat Reese Witherspoon narrating nature documentaries, with a twist. She focuses on female animals and seems to try to have them offer lessons of empowerment. The first episode focuses on sister cheetahs. "It's tough being a teenage cheetah," she says, calling the two big cat sister "gutsy girls." Then we watch the cheetahs stalk and brutally kill an impala. "Getting that belief in yourself and gaining confidence, that's what growing up is all about," a chirpy Witherspoon says. "Walk tall, fierce queens." The second episode deals with ant queens and loses its way quickly, with Witherspoon awkwardly highlighting the violent queen's reproductive power. The footage is from the BBC and it is stunning, even if it shows a limit to holding the camera vertically.