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HBO Max: Discounts, free upgrades, launch dates, shows and movies to expect

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HBO Max: Discounts, free upgrades, launch dates, shows and movies to expect 1

HBO Max promises a lot.


HBO; screenshot by Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

HBO Max is the HBO-anchored streaming service launching May 27. Like competitors Disney PlusPeacock and NetflixHBO Max will have a sprawling catalog of hit shows and movies, plus a big-budget slate of exclusive originals packed with stars. But HBO Max is hoping its exclusives are enticing enough for you to open your wallet — it’s the most expensive of the competing services. 

The latest high-profile exclusive for HBO Max is the mythical “Snyder cut” of the movie Justice League, with the news announced Wednesday. This alternate edit of the 2017 DC movie, by director Zack Snyder, will stream on the service in 2021. 

Beyond that, HBO Max is being padded with much more content than the HBO Now service or the regular channel has. Billions of dollars are being invested in the HBO Max service itself, in expensive deals to stream popular reruns like Friends and The Big Bang Theory, and in budgets for original programming. (Full highlights of shows and movies on Max are at the end of this article.)

At launch, HBO Max will have six so-called Max Originals, including an anthology series called Love Life starring Anna Kendrick that follows one character through a new romantic relationship each episode. It’s produced by Kendrick and Paul Feig, known for hit comedies like Bridesmaids. HBO Max’s second wave of originals includes 11 more programs hitting in the summer. Most are new seasons of existing shows that’ll be streaming exclusively on HBO Max, but the summer slate is capped Aug. 6 with the premiere of Seth Rogen’s film comedy An American Pickle. 

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Seth Rogen plays both a 1920s immigrant and his computer-coding great-grandson in An American Pickle. 


HBO Max

But, like most things in the world, HBO Max’s originals have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

People across the nation are streaming much more, as they’re confined to their homes, but the virus and its respiratory disease, COVID-19, have shut down television productions globally. New services launching this year are especially hard hit because they didn’t have as much original programming finished yet compared with an established service like Netflix. 

HBO Max hasn’t commented on the impact of the virus directly, but signs of disruption have started to surface. A Friends reunion special is delayed, for one. On the other hand, HBO Max is getting creative with new kinds of programming: The service has booked a quarantine cooking show from singer-actress Selena Gomez, for example, in which Gomez is joined remotely by expert chefs every episode. 

HBO Max, from AT&T’s WarnerMedia, is set to cost $15 a month, which matches the price for HBO Now and for HBO’s traditional channel when you get it through most pay-TV providers. (By comparison, Disney Plus is $7 a month, Netflix’s cheapest tier is $9, and Peacock will even have a free limited tier with ads.)

So how do you get HBO Max? New customers can simply sign up, and if you preorder on the HBO Max website before the May 27 launch date, you can unlock a discount cutting $3 off the monthly price for the first year — a $12 monthly price for the first 12 months. 

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HBO Max is offering a discount if you sign up at HBOMax.com before launch on May 27.


HBO/Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Some people who already have a regular HBO subscription or HBO Now will get Max for no extra cost. In order for you to get the automatic upgrade, HBO Max needs to strike a deal with the company that’s already billing you for HBO — whether it’s a cable-TV company like Charter or a digital store like Apple’s App Store. HBO Max has been ramping up these deals, and you can find a full list below of all the providers that will automatically upgrade your subscription to Max. 

But not every HBO customer gets the automatic upgrade, because HBO Max hasn’t struck deals with every single provider yet. Comcast, for example, is the biggest cable company in the country with its Xfinity services, and HBO Max hasn’t announced a Comcast deal so far. 

If you have pay-TV with HBO through any provider not listed below, then HBO Max hasn’t arranged a deal for you yet. If you want HBO Max, you could be forced to pay twice — one bill for regular HBO and another for HBO Max — or you may have to choose to cancel your current HBO subscription to re-sign up for Max. 

Yup, it’s complicated. Everything we know about HBO Max’s cost, discounts, app and its shows and movies is below. 

How much will HBO Max cost?

HBO Max will be $15 a month at launch. A preorder discount offers a $12 monthly rate for the first year if you sign up before May 27 at HBOMax.com.

Sometime within the first year, the service will expand to include another tier that carries advertising. The company hasn’t specified the price, launch date or catalog limitations on this tier, but it would presumably be cheaper or even free. 

HBO’s current standalone streaming service, HBO Now, also costs $15 a month. Though HBO Now will continue to operate, HBO Max will essentially replace it. HBO Now subscribers are welcome to stick with that service, but they’ll essentially be paying the same amount for less content. HBO Max will have all the same shows and movies on HBO Now plus a big catalog of licensed programming and exclusive originals. 

Compared with rival streaming services launching before HBO Max, that pricing may feel steep to many consumers. Disney Plus is $7 a month, and Apple TV Plus is $5. Both are offering deals that can cut the price further or providing opportunities for extended free periods lasting up to a year. Apple, for example, is giving away a year’s subscription to anyone who’s purchased an Apple device since early September. And Disney set up a deal with Verizon so any of the carrier’s mobile subscribers get a year free. 

When will HBO Max launch?

HBO Max will launch May 27 in the US. 

After that, HBO Max’s first international expansions will prioritize Latin America and Europe. Latin America will get HBO Max in 2021, the company has said. 

HBO Max’s US timing will put it near the end of the parade of streaming services launching. After Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus both launched in November, April brought Quibi, a mobile streaming service from Hollywood giant Jeffrey Katzenberg, which focuses on short episodic originals viewable only on phones. Also in April, Peacock launched a “sneak peek” at its service on Comcast; Peacock’s national launch is set for July 15 (though that date may be pushed up).

What devices can stream HBO Max?

HBO said the Max service will be available on a “very wide array of devices,” including phones, tablets, the web, connected TVs and game consoles. 

Recently, the company has begun officially announcing deals for device support. 

  • Most Apple devices that can stream video will support HBO Max — iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD. However, customers with second- and third-generation Apple TV models will need to stream HBO Max content from their iPhone or iPad to their TV with AirPlay.
  • Google’s Android operating system for phones and tablets will have an app as well, and Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices will support HBO Max too. 
  • Sony’s PlayStation 4 systems will be able to download the HBO Max app via the PlayStation Store. 
  • Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming consoles will also be able to get the HBO Max app via the Microsoft Store.
  • Select Samsung internet-connected smart TVs — models from 2016 through 2020 — will be able to download and purchase HBO Max directly.

But one popular device may not get HBO Max, at least initially. On Wednesday, AT&T’s incoming CEO, John Stankey, said that Amazon’s Fire TV products may not have an HBO Max app. “I’m pleased to say we’re going to be in virtually all app stores, or maybe one exception. It looks like we may not be in the Amazon Fire app store when all of this is said and done,” he said. “But I feel really good about the distribution dynamic, the availability of the product.”

Where can I get HBO Max? And how do I get Max if I already have HBO? 

The simplest way to get HBO Max is to sign up for it directly at hbomax.com

Through Apple, HBO Max will be an iOS app for iPhone and iPad, which will allow you to sign up and pay through an in-app purchase. Apple will also integrate HBO Max into its own TV app, which allows you to congregate certain streaming channels to watch them in one place. 

Through Google, HBO Max will have an app for Android phones and tablets in the Google Play store, and you’ll be able to sign up inside the app with an in-app purchase. You’ll also be able to stream HBO Max on Android TV, Chromebook and Google Chromecast. If you already subscribe to HBO Now through Google Play, you’ll automatically be able to log in to HBO Max at launch at no additional charge, and you’ll continue to be billed through Google. And YouTube TV, the streaming pay-TV service operated by Google’s YouTube, will also carry HBO Max. 

Things get more complicated if you already have HBO and want to know what the launch of HBO Max means for you. Some people who already have an existing subscription to HBO will be able to unlock HBO Max at no extra cost, but not everyone

Here’s some good news for anyone who is an HBO Now subscriber through Apple or Google: You barely have to do anything to unlock HBO Max. Your HBO Now app should automatically be replaced by the HBO Max app via a software update on devices that are supported by HBO Max. When you open the new HBO Max app, you just need to agree to the HBO Max Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and choose to “Access All of HBO Max,” according to an HBO Now support page. 

The following is the list of distributors that will unlock an HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost for their current HBO and HBO Now customers. You qualify for HBO Max if you already pay for HBO through: 

  • AT&T (HBO’s parent company) and DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T TV Now, AT&T TV and AT&T wireless users who can add HBO with certain unlimited plans.
  • Charter and its Spectrum services.
  • YouTube TV or Google.
  • Apple.
  • Hulu.
  • Altice USA and its Optimum and Suddenlink services.
  • Verizon and its Fios services.
  • Cox Communications.
  • The NCTC group of independent cable and broadband companies — that includes WOW!, Atlantic Broadband, RCN, Grande Communications & Wave, MCTV and others. (Check if your pay-TV provider is an NCTC member.)

However, it’s unclear if HBO Max will strike more deals with other pay-TV providers, whether that’s a traditional provider like Comcast or Dish Network, or an internet-based one like Amazon Prime Video Channels and The Roku Channel

AT&T is also offering a complicated matrix of promos for HBO Max. Some customers will get it at no extra cost, while others qualify for a one-month, three-month or one-year full trial. Your best shot at figuring out whether you qualify is to check your account or the myAT&T app, but CNET also lists AT&T’s qualification terms for its HBO Max promos

Shows and movies: What will I be able to watch on HBO Max?

The HBO Max catalog is all over the map. 

HBO Max will include all the shows and movies on HBO, plus a selection of high-profile licensed content, like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick & Morty and South Park. And it’ll layer exclusive original programming on top of that. At launch, HBO Max said it’ll have 10,000 hours of content to stream. 

Originally, HBO Max planned to have 31 originals in its first year and amp that up to 50 originals in the second year. But those timelines may be adjusted because of disruptions from the coronavirus. 

The simplest part of the catalog to understand is HBO itself. HBO Max will include everything on regular HBO, so that means all the theatrical movies that come and go from the channel; new episodes from all HBO series, like Westworld, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Sesame Street and so forth; and the past seasons of those programs as well as the full HBO back catalog, like Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, The Wire and so on. Plus any of the HBO original films, documentaries and specials. 

Movies will be a crucial part of the catalog too. And any movie that’s available to watch on the traditional HBO network will also be available to stream on HBO Max. Highlights of the HBO Max film catalog will include (but not necessarily have available at launch):

  • The so-called Snyder cut of Justice League, slated to arrive on HBO Max in 2021
  • The full sets 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.
  • Anime selections like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and other top titles from anime-focused streaming service Crunchyroll, which is ultimately also owned by AT&T. 
  • Classic movies like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, The Shining, Singin’ in the Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Goonies, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and many others.
  • Newer hits like Crazy Rich Asians and A Star Is Born.

Ultimately, HBO Max will have more than 18,000 movies, the company has said. 

On top of that, AT&T has been licensing outside hit shows to pad HBO Max’s catalog. The most most eye-popping have been:

  • A reported $425 million deal to win the rights to all episodes of ’90s hit Friends, which has left Netflix to start streaming on HBO Max at launch.
  • A reported $500 million deal to stream The Big Bang Theory.

It’s also secured deals for past seasons of Rick and Morty; 11 of the most recent seasons of Doctor Who, plus another three to come; CW dramas like Pretty Little Liars, Batwoman, and Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene as well as more upcoming CW series; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; The West Wing; and British series like Luther and Ricky Gervais’ original The Office, among many others. 

Animated satire South Park will not only contribute its full back catalog to HBO Max but also stream new episodes. The latest episodes of South Park will stream on HBO Max 24 hours after they air on Comedy Central for the next three seasons.

And HBO Max will have exclusive original shows and movies, called Max Originals. For the most part, original series on HBO Max will drop new episodes on a weekly basis. 

At launch on May 27, the originals will include: 

  • Love Life, the romantic comedy with Anna Kendrick.
  • On the Record, a controversial Me Too documentary film about record executive Russell Simmons.
  • Legendary, a competition show based on underground drag balls. 
  • Craftopia, a YouTuber-hosted craft series.
  • New Looney Tunes cartoons.
  • The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.

After launch, the next Max Originals that’ve been scheduled for release are: 

  • Karma, an unscripted kids adventure competition series — June 18.
  • Doom Patrol, the second season of the DC Universe series — June 25.
  • Esme & Roy, the second season of the preschool animated series from Sesame Workshop — June 25.
  • Search Party, the third season of the comedy thriller that originally aired on TBS — June 25.
  • Adventure Time: Distant Lands-BMO, which is the first of four specials resurrecting Cartoon Network’s franchise Adventure Time — June 25.
  • Expecting Amy, a three-part docuseries about comedian Amy Schumer’s life on tour during her pregnancy — July 9.
  • Close Enough, an animated comedy about millennial roommates — July 9.
  • The House of Ho, a multigenerational family docusoap — July 16.
  • Tig n’ Seek, an animated children’s series from Cartoon Network Studios about an 8-year-old and his gadget-building cat — July 23.
  • Frayed, a scripted comedy about a wealthy Londoner who goes back to her Australian hometown — July 30.
  • The Dog House, an unscripted British animal rescue series — July 30.
  • American Pickle, the Seth Rogen comedy that is HBO Max’s first original film, about a 1920s immigrant who gets preserved in pickle brine for 100 years and meets his great-grandson (both characters portrayed by Rogen) in modern-day Brooklyn — Aug. 6.

Then over the course of the fall and beyond, HBO Max will add other originals, including: 

  • The Flight Attendant, starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco based on the novel by Chris Bohjalian.
  • The Friends unscripted cast reunion special.
  • Sci-fi epic Raised by Wolves from director and executive producer Ridley Scott. The 10-episode series focuses on two androids raising human children on a mysterious planet. The show had already wrapped production in South Africa.

HBO Max originally planned to have 31 original series in its launch year (which totals 69 series when combined with HBO content). Then in 2021, HBO Max planned to expand Max Originals to a slate of 50 shows. About half are targeted at young adults aged 16 to 34, and the rest will be divided between more adult fare and kids and family content outside the HBO brand. 

Some of the other highlights of the originals set for HBO Max include: 

  • New DC titles. A Green Lantern series that producer Greg Berlanti (a young-adult TV guru behind Riverdale and Arrow) says will travel to space and “promises to be our biggest DC show ever made.” Strange Adventures, a one-hour drama anthology series also produced by Berlanti that explores the intersecting lives of mortals and superhumans. DC Super Hero High will be a half-hour comedy from Elizabeth Banks, the producer and actress known for the Hunger Games films and 30 Rock, that’ll focus on a group of adolescent students at a boarding school for “gifted” kids.
  • Projects by J.J. Abrams. Abrams, known for a parade of television and box office hits, signed a megadeal with AT&T and WarnerMedia to make projects for the company. On HBO Max, he’ll help produce a show set in the Justice League Dark universe; Overlook, a thriller based on Stephen King’s The Shining and set in the Overlook Hotel; and a 1970s crime show called Duster. 
  • A half-hour comedy from actress-producer Issa Rae. Rae’s Rap Sh*t explores the music business in Miami through the eyes of three women: an upstart hip-hop duo and their hustling manager.
  • A half-hour comedy from actress/producer Mindy Kaling. College Girls (a working title) tracks three 18-year-old freshman roommates at Evermore College in Vermont. 
  • The Boondocks animated series is getting “two reimagined seasons” along with a 50-minute special originally planned for fall 2020. 
  • A new Jellystone animated series with the classic Hanna-Barbera characters from Warner Bros. Animation. 
  • A new animated series from Cartoon Network Studios called The Fungies, as well as a hybrid live-action/animated comedy, Tooned Out, from Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis.
  • Comedy specials from Conan O’Brien and the team behind his TBS show. They’ll be developing five stand-up specials for HBO Max: O’Brien will host two specials that feature short sets from multiple up-and-coming comics and curate hourlong sets from three comedians. That slate will join another one-hour special from comedian James Veitch.

The service will have a smaller slate of original films, between five and 10 per year, according to the original plan. Early highlights on the original movie slate include: 

  • A two-picture deal with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. 
  • A documentary about Anthony Bourdain.
  • A four-picture deal with Berlanti, including Unpregnant, about two teenage girls who go on a road trip to New Mexico after one finds out she’s pregnant, based on the young adult novel by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan.
  • Super Intelligence, a comedy starring Melissa McCarthy about a woman whose romantic life is selected for observation by artificial intelligence.
  • Bobbie Sue, a comedy feature starring Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez as an up-and-coming young lawyer who joins a stuffy Boston law firm.

HBO Max: Discounts, free upgrades, launch dates, shows and movies to expect 2


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How does HBO Max fit in with HBO Go and HBO Now?

HBO Max will be similar to HBO Go and HBO Now but with additional programming. 

Generally speaking, HBO Now and HBO Go are nearly the same product. The main difference is who uses them: Anyone can sign up for HBO Now for $15 a month, while HBO Go is the app for people who already have an HBO subscription through a live-TV provider like cable or satellite. Both HBO Now and HBO Go stream all the programming available on WarnerMedia’s traditional HBO network. 

People who already have HBO Now can switch over to HBO Max for no additional cost. For HBO Go users, it’s more complicated. HBO Go is unlocked by a pay-TV subscription, and HBO Max won’t unlock for all pay-TV customers. For now, only people who pay for HBO through an AT&T, DirecTV or Charter service can get HBO Max included with their current subscription. (Pop back up to our “How much will HBO Max cost?” section for full details.) Unless WarnerMedia can strike more deals, everyone else who currently pays for HBO will still need to pay an extra $15 a month if they want HBO Max too. 

How is HBO Max different from all the rest of AT&T’s streaming services?

Yep, AT&T has even more streaming services. 

AT&T TV is similar to a cable or satellite pay-TV service, except it’s delivered over the internet. AT&T TV includes live channels, DVR and video on demand that cable subscribers are familiar with, plus the ability to stream from apps like Netflix and Pandora. To watch on TVs, AT&T TV has its own proprietary streaming box that AT&T requires you use, and subscribers can watch everything on mobile devices with an app too. Right now, it starts at $50 a month for the cheapest tier’s first year; the price jumps to $93 a month in the second year. 

AT&T TV Now, on the other hand, is a live-TV streaming service along the lines of Sling TV or YouTube TV.  If you were familiar with DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now is just the renamed version of that service. Rather than requiring a specific box, it lets subscribers stream live channels to Rokus, Apple TVs, Fire TVs and more, and the channels are available on a mobile app as well. It also has a cloud DVR. Services like this are sometimes called skinny-bundle streaming services, but AT&T TV Now’s cheapest package isn’t particularly skinny — $55 a month for more than 45 live channels (not including HBO). Still, it isn’t quite as robust as AT&T TV, which is meant to replicate the giant cable packages of traditional TV. 

Finally, AT&T Watch TV is closer to a traditional skinny bundle. It offers more than 35 live channels, including AT&T-owned TBS, TNT and CNN. AT&T Watch TV is a free perk included with certain unlimited AT&T wireless data plans, but anyone can sign up for it for $15 a month. It was designed as a mobile-first service, but you can stream AT&T Watch TV to televisions with a few boxes, including Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but others aren’t supported, like Roku boxes.

Simple, right?

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