HBO Max vs. Netflix: A very early look at how Warner’s new streamer stacks up

Another challenger approaches. Like Disney, CBS, Apple, and NBC before it, AT&T/WarnerMedia has its sights set on Netflix’s streaming video crown. The company’s new streaming service, which is expected to launch spring 2020, will be called HBO Max, and will combine HBO’s award-winning programming slate with Warner Bros.’ vast content library, as well as a handful of original movies and television series.

That’s all well and good, but does HBO Max really have what it takes to cut into Netflix’s reign? It’s still too early to say. But if you’re already trying to figure out your streaming budget for the next year or two, we’ve stacked up what we know about the new service against it’s presumed biggest competition in a post we’ll be constantly updating as the new service approaches.

Content

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HBO Max will reportedly launch with 10,000 hours of content in its library. That sounds like a lot (and it is!) until you realize that Netflix launched almost 1,500 hours of original content in 2018 alone. Add in all of the existing Netflix originals and its catalog of third-party films and TV shows, and it’s clear which of the two has more stuff. It’s Netflix, plain and simple.

But for many people, quality, not quantity, is the deciding factor. There, things get a little trickier. As more companies launch their own streaming services, Netflix’s line-up gets smaller and smaller. Disney has started pulling its major franchises from Netflix and will begin moving them to Disney+ this fall. The Office, Netflix’s most-watched show, will be leaving the streamer for NBC Universal’s service in 2021.

From that perspective, HBO Max starts to look pretty good. As the name implies, HBO Max is expected to have all of HBO’s hit series and films, including The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Veep, Westworld, and plenty of others. Starting in 2020, it will also be the only place where you can find Friends, which Netflix previously paid $100 million to stream for just a year.

That’s not all. HBO Max will also contain every episode of old favorites like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Pretty Little Liars, and will be the exclusive digital home for new CW series like Batwoman and the Riverdale spin-off Kathy Keene. You can probably expect to see Warner Bros.’ feature films on HBO Max, too. Those could include DC Comics properties and The Lord of the Rings, although it’s not clear how many of those will be on HBO Max at launch, or whether they’ll be exclusive to the service. HBO Max will also include content from cable channels like TNT, TBS, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, and more.

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Still, you’ve seen all of those things before. What about new stuff? From the looks of things, WarnerMedia is trying to woo new subscribers by pumping HBO Max full of content from name-brand creators. The company recently signed J.J. Abrams to a $500 million, streaming-focused deal, and has enlisted names like Reese Witherspoon, Paul Feig, Anna Kendrick, and Greg Berlanti (the man behind the CW’s superhero series) to develop original content.

HBO Max will also leverage some of Warner Bros.’ intellectual properties with an animated Gremlins prequel and a spin-off from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune reboot. HBO itself has some high-profile original series coming up, including His Dark Materials, Abrams and Jordan Peele’s Lovecraft Country, and Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s Avenue 5. Those Game of Thrones prequels are moving ahead, too.

Don’t count Netflix out just yet, though. The streaming king is expected to spend almost $18 billion on original content in 2020 alone, and it already has a number of legitimate hits in its line-up. The first wave of big Netflix originals — House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Marvel shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones — might be over, but the latest season of Stranger Things is tearing it up. The Haunting of Hill House follow-up, The Haunting of Bly Manor, is on its way. The Witcher, Dark Crystal, and Space Force are all waiting in the wings.

In fact, in 2018, Netflix scored more Emmy nominations than HBO, breaking HBO’s 17-year streak as the most-nominated network, and tied HBO when it came to total wins. With the rise of studio-specific streaming services, the future of Netflix’s overall library might be shaky, but when it comes to original content, Netflix has proven time and again that it knows what it’s doing.

Price

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We don’t know how much HBO Max will cost, but rumors suggest that WarnerMedia will charge around $17 a month for the service at launch. Compared to a regular HBO subscription, which tends to cost about $15, that’s a great deal. 

At its most expensive tier, Netflix only costs $16, and that includes a 4K HDR picture and Dolby Atmos audio, which neither of the current HBO apps currently support. If HBO Max is only in HD, it matches up with Netflix’s own HD tier, which currently runs $13. Obviously, we need more information about HBO Max before reaching a final verdict, but so far it looks like Netflix might have a slight edge when it comes to price.

Devices

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If you have a modern multimedia device, you’ll probably be able to watch both Netflix and HBO Max. Netflix currently supports all major streaming devices, mobile phones and tablets, computers and web browsers, and almost every big game console (currently, there’s no Netflix app on the Nintendo Switch — not yet, anyway). 

The same can be said for HBO Go and HBO Now, and it would be odd if WarnerMedia didn’t base HBO Max on its existing platforms. Still, there’s a chance that HBO Max support will be limited at launch. DC Universe, WarnerMedia’s superhero-focused streaming service, still has fairly limited support. That’s already a niche product, though. HBO Max is going to be a much bigger deal. Netflix will probably be on more devices no matter what, but depending on how you stream, that may not matter much.

Conclusion

It’s very early days, but you can’t live without Friends (and, judging by the numbers, there are a lot of you out there), you can’t get enough Game of Thrones, or you’re a DC fan who bleeds Superman blue, HBO Max is a no-brainer. 

Similarly, if you’re already an HBO subscriber, you should plan on getting HBO Max. Assuming that the projected prices for HBO Max hold up, the new service could give you much, much more for just a couple of extra bucks. Unless you get HBO for free (or if you subscribe to HBO for one or two specific shows), HBO Max is an excellent deal.

Otherwise, we need more information about HBO Max before we can make any kind of definitive decision. Given what we know, however, Netflix is still looking pretty good. HBO Max has the potential to be a great service. Netflix is already a proven, high-quality commodity. Could HBO Max beat Netflix in the battle for your hard-earned dollars? Sure — but, from the looks of things, it has its work cut out for it.

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