WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service finally has a name and its first big get: exclusive streaming rights for Friends, which is one of Netflix’s most-watched titles.
HBO Max, which will debut next spring, will also include new Warner Bros.-produced programming for The CW, including Batwoman and Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene. Producers Greg Berlanti and Reese Witherspoon will produce at least half a dozen films for the service between the two of them. Additionally, HBO Max will have exclusive streaming rights to programs like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Pretty Little Liars.
“HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform,” Robert Greenblatt, WarnerMedia entertainment and direct-to-consumer chairman, said in a statement. “HBO’s world-class programming leads the way, the quality of which will be the guiding principle for our new array of Max Originals, our exciting acquisitions, and the very best of the Warner Bros. libraries, starting with the phenomenon that is Friends.”
HBO Max is intended to appeal to a wide audience and will include original and library programming from all of WarnerMedia’s properties, including TNT, TBS, The CW, CNN, Cartoon Network and Warner Bros., the company said. It will premiere with 10,000 hours of premium content.
A WarnerMedia spokesperson said the company was not discussing pricing, but The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the price was likely to be slightly more than the monthly $14.99 cost of HBO Now, which gives consumers streaming access to HBO content—and higher than the $12.99 a month cost of Netflix and the $11.99 a month for Hulu without ads
The deal is a big get (especially the exclusive rights to stream Friends) for WarnerMedia, whose service, which is slated to be available in early spring 2020 and will go through internal beta testing this fall, is entering a crowded market long dominated by Netflix and, more recently, Hulu.
Disney has plans to release Disney+, a streaming service priced at $6.99 a month that will be the home for both library content and exclusive content from popular franchises like Star Wars and Marvel, and NBCUniversal is also prepping a streaming service slated to arrive sometime next year. Even Apple is wading into the streaming fray with AppleTV+.
Today’s announcement is a blow for Netflix, which previously had the rights to stream Friends and a deal with The CW to stream full seasons of the network’s programming beginning eight days after the broadcast season finale. Series that aired on the broadcast network before the Netflix deal expired this spring—including The Flash and Riverdale—will continue to stream on Netflix after each season concludes.
Under HBO Max’s new deal with The CW, full seasons of new Warner Bros.-produced programming for the broadcast network, including Batwoman and Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene, will begin streaming on the OTT service 30 days prior to the following season’s CW premieres. (So if Batwoman is renewed for Season 2, which premieres in October 2020, its first season won’t stream on HBO Max until September 2020.)
Netflix, which in late June lost the streaming rights to The Office to NBCUniversal, today confirmed that Friends would disappear from the platform in 2020.
WarnerMedia’s focus on securing the exclusive streaming rights to Friends marks something of a reversal for the company’s stance on exclusivity. As recently as December, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company’s streaming service would share streaming rights to Friends with Netflix and that it was “not necessary” for Friends to be exclusive to its streaming platform.
But Kevin Reilly, WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks’ president and the chief content officer of what is now called HBO Max, signaled a shift in strategy last February, when he told reporters that sharing assets was “not a good model.”