HBO Max launches Wednesday, and the latest combatant in the streaming wars will cost you $14.99 a month. Is it worth it?
If you miss streaming “Friends” repeats — no longer on Netflix — or if you’re dying to stream all 279 episodes of “The Big Bang Theory,” sure. If you want to watch every episode of pretty much every original series that’s been on HBO — along with whatever movies are currently airing on the pay-cable channel — absolutely.
The folks at Warner Media promise there will be 10,000 hours of programming available when HBO Max launches, and that the library will just continue to grow. It’s about as eclectic a list as you could possibly imagine — new movies, classic movies, sitcoms, reality shows, children’s shows, sports … the list goes on and on. (And you can check out the offerings at hbomax.com.)
Calling the new streaming service HBO Max (a combination of HBO and Cinemax) is smart. There’s a certain cachet that goes with HBO, which has a reputation for expensive-looking, award-winning original series. Not everything on HBO fits that bill, but decades of marketing and series like “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Sex and the City,” “Veep,” “The Jinx,” “Big Love,” “Deadwood,” “Oz,” “Six Feet Under” and “Game of Thrones” have built up a bit of a mystique.
HBO Max is not that. It’s everything that’s on HBO, but it’s also a lot of acquired movies and TV shows and originals that we never would have seen on the main cable channel.
Not that that’s a bad thing. I’ll be watching “Friends,” “Big Bang” and “Game of Thrones” repeats until I die. But don’t expect everything on HBO Max to be HBO-ish.
The basic cost is $14.99 a month — which is relatively high, considering the competition. You can get Apple TV+ for $4.99; CBS All Access or Hulu for $5.99; Disney+ for $7; Netflix for $9. Peacock will have a free, ad-supported tier when it launches nationwide on July 15. (It’s already available to Comcast cable subscribers.)
If you sign up at hbomax.com before the May 27 launch date, HBO Max will cost you $11.99 a month for the first year. And, we’re promised, we can “cancel at any time.”
But here’s where it gets complicated. Some of you who already pay for HBO on cable or satellite will get HBO Max at no extra cost — but not all of you.
If you subscribe to HBO through Altice USA, Apple, AT&T, Charter, Cox Communications, Google, Hulu, Microsoft, National Cable Television Cooperative, Samsung, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Verizon or YouTube TV, you’re in luck. You can activate HBO Max without paying more.
UPDATE: On Wednesday — launch day — WarnerMedia and Comcast announced an agreement. Xfinity customers who currently subscribe to HBO have access to HBO Max at no additional cost. They must, however, log in via the HBO Max app or the website using their Xfinity credentials “while the companies work to quickly bring the HBO Max app to the ... Xfinity X1 platform.”
Customers will also be able to purchase HBO Max through Xfinity “in the coming days.”
If you subscribe to HBO Now — the stand-alone, HBO-only streaming service — you can convert your subscription to HBO Max. The cost is the same, and there’ll be a lot more programming on HBO Max.
HBO Max is planning to add a cheaper, ad-supported tier sometime in the next few months, but no details have been announced.
On launch day, HBO Max will feature six original programs:
• “Love Life” is a romantic comedy anthology from Anna Kendrick and producer Paul Feig. Every season will follow a different character looking for love — Season 1 features Kendrick as Darby Carter, who navigates a decade of relationships over the course of 10 episodes. It’s very promising.
• “Looney Tunes Cartoons” are new adventures of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd and more. The animation isn’t up to the standards of the old-timey cartoons us older folks grew up watching, but it’s not bad. And it’s very much in the spirit of the originals.
• “The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo” casts the 3½-year-old Muppet as the host of his own talk show. There’s a surprising lineup of guest stars — actual people who are actually stars — as well as multiple Muppets. I didn’t expect to like this, but I do.
• “Legendary” is the real-life version of FX’s “Pose.” Voguing “houses” battle each other in over-the-top dancing competitions. It’s one of those things you might get drawn into if you start watching.
• “On the Record” is the controversial documentary about sexual assault allegations against hip hop music and fashion mogul Russell Simmons. It premiered at Sundance back in January, just after Oprah Winfrey’s production company chickened out … er, uh, pulled out of the production.
• “Craftopia” is a reality/competition series in which kids compete to create the best crafts. It might inspire your kids and give them something to do during the pandemic.
HBO Max has announced 11 more original shows, ranging from a Seth Rogen film comedy (“An American Pickle”) to “The House of Ho” (a “multigenerational docusoap”) that are supposed to premiere this summer. The plan was for 31 originals in the first year and 50 originals in the second, but when, exactly, everything will premiere is at the mercy of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The “Friends” reunion that got everyone so excited — even though it won’t be a new episode, it’ll basically be a group interview — has been delayed indefinitely.
Is it worth it?
There will certainly be plenty of programming on HBO Max — if you watch for four hours a day, it’ll take you almost seven years to get through the 10,000 hours of programming we’re promised at launch. And WarnerMedia will be adding to that.
We already know a lot of those shows and movies are worth watching. Not everything, but a lot of it.
But odds are that not everything you want to watch will be on HBO Max. Even if you’ve cut the cable/satellite cord, there are great things on Netflix and Disney+ and CBS All Access and Hulu, just to name a few.
HBO Max will cost you $180 a year. HBO Max, Netflix, Disney+, CBS All Access and Hulu will cost you $516 a year. And what if you’re just dying to see “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+ or the “Saved by the Bell” sequel on Peacock?
HBO Max looks like it will be one of the premiere streaming services, and $180 a year is equivalent to a few trips to the movie theater, popcorn included, when/if movie theaters ever open again. But with all the streaming competition, you might want to check out the cheaper competition.