Our 8 Biggest Questions About HBO Max Ahead of Its Investor Day

From pricing to launch date, there's still a lot we don't know about the streaming service

GIF animation of HBO Max appearing in question marks
- Credit by Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: HBO
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With a hefty slate of originals and library content, HBO Max—WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service—is shaping up to be one of the larger and more ambitious new entries in the space. But while HBO Max has been releasing news about its programming on a daily basis, there are still lots of questions about the upcoming service that it hasn’t answered.

That should change Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET, when parent company AT&T holds a WarnerMedia Day for investors, similar to Disney’s unveiling of Disney+ last April. Here are the biggest questions remaining about HBO Max that we hope the Oct. 29 presentation will finally answer.

When will HBO Max debut?

The company has indicated that HBO Max will launch sometime in spring 2020, but the exact date hasn’t been announced. That means people looking to watch popular content that will be on HBO Max—including Friends, which exits Netflix at the end of the year—don’t know exactly when those programs will show up again on streaming. An exact launch date will also help understand how much of a head start services like Apple TV+ and Disney+ will get, and whether HBO Max will launch before or after NBCUniversal’s upcoming streaming service, Peacock, which is slated to debut in April.

What will it cost?

HBO Max’s price tag is expected to be higher than most of its competitors, but exactly how much remains to be seen. At $14.99 a month, the cable network’s standalone subscription to HBO is already more expensive than most other streaming services on the market. Offering HBO Max at the same price point will effectively mean that WarnerMedia will be giving away either HBO or the rest of HBO Max’s content lineup for free—unless WarnerMedia plans to cut HBO’s monthly price—but charging even more could also be a deterrent to new customers. Hulu’s ad-free tier costs $11.99 a month, and Netflix’s standard tier costs $12.99 a month; other services, like Disney+ and Apple TV+, will only cost $6.99 a month and $4.99 a month, respectively.

How will HBO Max work for existing HBO and HBO Now subscribers?

HBO Max is billed as a catch-all subscription that will include all existing HBO shows and movies, so it’s likely the company will seek to upgrade most if not all current HBO subscribers to the Max service. Exactly how that is going to work is unclear: Will HBO subscribers be prompted to upgrade, or, if the price point stays the same, will they be automatically upgraded? (WarnerMedia will also have to navigate the reality that most of HBO’s customers pay through cable and satellite providers, and others subscribe to HBO Now, the company’s direct-to-consumer option.) All of this will affect the potential size of HBO Max’s initial footprint; for streaming services, achieving a level of scale that translates to subscriber revenue or advertising revenue will be key to justifying original content spend.

How will HBO be positioned on the service?

HBO’s buzzy premium content will serve as a major content cornerstone of HBO Max, and it’s even in the new service’s name, but how the standalone brand will be represented on HBO Max remains to be seen. Will the HBO content be walled off from the rest of the content on the platform in a separate section—and, if it is, will the interface look like HBO’s existing streaming services HBO Go and HBO Now? Or will HBO’s content be folded into the larger ecosystem of HBO Max at large? The presentation of the HBO content and the ease of use for HBO customers will factor into the likelihood of convincing those existing customers to make the switch to the broader offering.

On a related note, how will WarnerMedia’s other properties be represented on HBO Max?

Like HBO, titles from WarnerMedia’s other brands will be folded into the Max service, including the popular dark comedy Search Party, which was pulled from the company’s linear channel TBS, and revivals of the cartoon Adventure Time, which first aired on Cartoon Network. But whether those traditional television brands will have individual standalone identities as part of Max hasn’t been detailed. Will those brands be broken out separately for Max users looking for certain content, or will it be blended together? It’s especially worth considering as TNT, TBS and truTV have altered and blurred the channels’ brands on their linear properties, which could make it less likely that they receive individual spotlights as part of the service.

When will the cheaper, ad-supported version of HBO Max will available?

At May’s upfront, WarnerMedia reiterated that an ad-supported version of HBO Max will be available in the future, and former ad sales chief Donna Speciale told Adweek a month before her July exit that a less-expensive ad-supported option would come onto the scene sometime in 2021. Advertisers are eager to get involved with AVOD, so they’ll want to know what their options are going to be both in terms of ad units and audience targeting capabilities. Consumers who are OK with watching ads in exchange for spending less on a subscription will want to know when they will have that option—and could put off subscribing until that ad-supported tier is offered.

How will original shows be rolled out on the service?

HBO has followed traditional television’s playbook of releasing its original content week-by-week because of its foot in the linear space, but it’s unclear if HBO Max will stick to the same release strategy going forward, especially considering the sheer number of new programs it plans to put out on the service. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, a self-professed fan of the HBO drama Succession, said in a recent earnings call that he gets “aggravated every week” by the week-by-week release schedule of the show; on the other hand, massive hits, including Game of Thrones, benefited from the weekly rollout by leaving room for fan theories, discussion and hype to build before the next episode airs. HBO Max will have to toe the line between meeting consumers’ expectations for viewing options while keeping them hooked on the service for newer releases.

 

How will WarnerMedia market HBO Max?

Rolling out a new service all comes down to the number of subscribers the company can attract, and much of that, of course, comes down to the marketing. The service, which in July secured the rights to stream the popular sitcom Friends, is getting am indirect boost from the ongoing blowout celebration of the show’s 25-year anniversary, but HBO Max has not yet detailed any forthcoming marketing pushes, or what shape those initiatives will take.

There’s also no indication yet as to how extensive promotions or discounted memberships will be to HBO Max, and whether those promos would be aimed at current HBO subscribers or non-HBO users. In an interview with Reuters Friday, AT&T chief operating officer John Stankey said 10 million HBO subscribers who are also AT&T customers will get HBO Max for no additional cost for the first year. Last month, show host Ellen DeGeneres gave free two-year memberships to her studio audience after announcing a multishow deal she signed with the service. Meanwhile, HBO Max competitors Apple TV+ and Disney+ have laid out a slew of promotions, bundles and deeply discounted subscriptions in an effort to hook users on their services.


@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
Publish date: October 28, 2019 https://dev.adweek.com/tv-video/our-8-biggest-questions-about-hbo-max-ahead-of-its-investor-day/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT