The streaming landscape is growing at lightspeed, making it more important to know what each streaming video service offers and how it compares to the crowd. One of the latest services to be announced is HBO Max, which promises to offer more than 10,000 hours of content from Warner Bros., HBO, and various other movie studios and television networks under AT&T’s WarnerMedia banner.
Although the service has an official name and a launch date of spring 2020, there’s still a lot we don’t know about HBO Max. Here are the biggest questions we have about this new Netflix challenger, and the answers we’ll need to get if we’re going to invest our hard-earned money on another streaming platform.
The first, unconfirmed report about the cost of HBO Max arrived in June 2019, and indicated that WarnerMedia was planning to charge between $16 and $17 for its then-unnamed streaming service. Subsequent, official announcements from AT&T and WarnerMedia — including the announcement the — didn’t offer any confirmation of that price point.
With a wide range of subscription prices for the various streaming services available now and launching in the near future, it’s anyone’s guess at this point what HBO Max will end up costing. Given that HBO alone costs around $15 per month, there’s good reason to believe HBO Max will cost more than that — but in the current Wild West of streaming services, anything’s possible. If it does come in at just a couple dollars more per month, it’s going to be hard to resist for anyone already hooked on HBO.
How about 4K and HDR?
Although many services offer cheaper subscription plans for lower-resolution content, 4K resolution and its contrast counterpart, HDR, are rapidly becoming standard inclusions in streaming video packages. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both deliver 4K Ultra High Definition HDR video to subscribers, which offer improvements both in the pixel density of the image, as well as brighter whites, richer black levels, and more vivid color shading.
HBO (including the premium channel and its streaming counterparts in HBO Go and HBO Now) has thus far resisted moving up from 1080p HD video to 4K. HBO Max will likely need to take this into consideration when it attempts to compete with the industry leaders. There’s been no word so far on how WarnerMedia plans to address subscribers’ desire for 4K streaming video, so we’ll have to wait and see what kind of picture HBO Max is going to deliver.
What happens to DC Universe?
With the announcement of HBO Max, WarnerMedia made its existing, recently launched DC Universe streaming service the superhero-sized elephant in the room.
DC Universe offers subscribers a relatively small, but impressive library of movies and television series tied to the DC Entertainment universe, including several well-received original series, such as Doom Patrol. Want to see Tim Burton’s original Batman? It’s in there. Interested in checking out some episodes of the award-winning Batman: The Animated Series? That’s all in there, too.
It makes sense that the service would be folded into HBO Max in one form or another, but DC Universe also offers subscribers access to a massive library of digital comics from the DC Comics vault, which is something other streaming services don’t have. At this point, WarnerMedia hasn’t indicated any plans to end or otherwise change the existing DC Universe platform, but this could be a game-changer in one way or another for HBO Max — and maybe DC Universe, too.
How much TV will Max actually offer?
Giving the service the name “HBO Max” seems to suggest that HBO programming will be one of the basic elements the service will offer, but AT&T and WarnerMedia are in the unique position of having a massive list of TV properties at their disposal.
Along with HBO, WarnerMedia also owns Cinemax, TBS, TNT, and TruTV, as well as CNN, HLN, and a long list of other major and minor broadcast cable and premium TV networks. That’s a lot of TV content under one roof, and that pile of programming doesn’t even account for The CW and other networks that are jointly owned by WarnerMedia and other companies.
With CBS All Access offering live and just-aired shows from CBS channels online, there’s a precedent for giving subscribers that sort of immediate, streaming access to broadcast content. HBO already has its HBO Now service that lets you watch HBO shows live online without a cable subscription, so will HBO Max package that with similar access to any of the other networks WarnerMedia controls? If so — and at the right price — HBO Max could quickly become among the best cord-cutting options available.
Will Max be WB’s home for DC films?
Streaming competitor Disney+ has already announced plans to be the exclusive streaming source for many of the Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm projects down the road, so it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise for HBO Max to do the same with Warner Bros. Pictures movies.
If that does indeed happen, it would make HBO Max a serious competitor for the wallets of streaming video subscribers — but it would make the divide between services that much wider. Warner Bros. Pictures encompasses much more than just the Batman and DC Extended Universe properties, with the Harry Potter “Wizarding World” franchise also falling under the WB banner, alongside the Godzilla monster-verse and various other blockbuster franchises.
A deal set up with NBCUniversal several years ago will keep the Wizarding World projects off HBO Max until after 2025, but after that point, it’s anyone’s guess as to where Harry Potter and company will make their streaming home. The rest of the aforementioned frachises are entirely in the mix for HBO Max, though.
Making HBO Max the gatekeeper service for streaming access to these films ala Disney+ might be the boldest move that WarnerMedia could make — but like Disney+, it’s bound to force movie-loving cord-cutters to make some tough decisions about where to spend their money.
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