WarnerMedia announced new details about its upcoming streaming service, including the platform’s name: HBO Max. WarnerMedia is the parent company of Warner Bros., DC Entertainment, and HBO, among many others, and it’s following Disney and NBCUniversal into the standalone streaming service world. In fact, there are so many companies entering the fray, viewers are going to have to make some decisions about which services are worth the cost, or else risk a TV streaming bill that rivals a traditional cable bill.
While there are still some HBO Max details that have yet to be announced, like exact launch date and pricing, WarnerMedia has announced enough for us to get a general feel for Max’s offerings. Here’s an early look at how HBO Max stacks up against Netflix and the upcoming Disney+, and how to know whether each one is right for you.
Let’s start with the big draws: All episodes of “The Office” and “Friends” will be available exclusively on HBO Max when the service launches in the spring. (You can still catch them on Netflix until then.) HBO Max seems to be relying on brand recognition to drive viewers to its service — the announcement video bombards viewers with network names and iconic characters. Naturally, the big HBO series are featured prominently in the video, but Jon Snow and Tony Soprano are also paired with Wonder Woman, Elmo, Godzilla, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire, Bugs Bunny, and more. “If there’s something you love,” the video suggests, “you’ll find it here.”
Not wanting to be too backward-looking, HBO Max has already confirmed a lineup of upcoming content that includes:
• A new Stephen King adapted series
• A romantic comedy series starring Anna Kendrick
• An adaptation of a “Dune” spinoff
• An animated “Gremlins” series
• A new sci-fi series from Joss Whedon
Who will want it
Based on what we know so far, HBO Max seems like a worthwhile subscription for fans of classic shows, newer movies, or HBO series. It seems very much like a brand-focused decision: If you’re a hardcore Harry Potter fan, a “Friends” fanatic, or a dedicated DC Comics fan, HBO Max will likely be the only place to stream much of that content. However, for people who aren’t particularly dedicated to any of those networks or franchises, the hook is less clear.
If you’re primarily interested in the HBO part of things, you’ll be able to stick with your current HBO Now or HBO Go subscription. From HBO: “HBO Max is a new streaming platform, and HBO GO and HBO NOW will still be available as separate apps.” Again, we don’t know what the cost comparison looks like yet, but a standalone HBO subscription would presumably be cheaper than HBO Max with all its offerings.
It’s weird to think about the company that pioneered the video streaming service industry as the “old guard,” but that’s how things have shaken out for Netflix. Formerly a one-stop-shop for streaming TV and movies from other studios, Netflix has increasingly invested in original content — partly to distinguish itself, and partly to combat the high cost of licensed content. And now that companies like Disney and WarnerMedia are launching their own services, they’re pulling some of their most valuable content from other services like Netflix.
That move leaves Netflix in a tough spot, making it increasingly reliant on the value of its original series. Without the breadth of licensed content it’s always offered users, Netflix is no longer a no-brainer inclusion among monthly subscriptions. Its original series have generated enough buzz and won enough awards that it will still merit consideration, but people will have more (and possibly better) options than ever before.
Who will want it
For people who want a catch-all movie and TV streaming service, Netflix will still be an attractive option. It just won’t be quite as comprehensive as it has been up until now. And some of the content that’s leaving in the next year or two is expected to make its way back eventually, as explained in a Bloomberg report about the content handoffs between Netflix and Disney. So if you just like having a streaming service to browse through when you’re in the mood, Netflix may still be your best bet.
Obviously, if you’re all about “Stranger Things,” “Orange is the New Black,” or any of the other Netflix original series, you’ll want to stay with Netflix. But the real question is whether Netflix’s originals can compete with the quality of HBO’s and Disney’s once those services launch.
Disney’s strategy is pretty straightforward: Just buy all the most popular media franchises, then put them exclusively on your streaming platform. Also, offer that content at a cheaper price than your biggest competitor and allow unlimited downloads. To be honest, it looks like a pretty solid approach. With Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar under its roof, Disney holds claim to many of the must-see entertainment franchises, which should pull a lot of weight once the service launches in November. More of a comedy person? Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox means you’ll have 30 seasons of “The Simpsons” at your fingertips.
To avoid the trap of relying on nostalgia alone, Disney has also lined up a variety of original content for Disney+, including:
• Star Wars spinoff series “The Mandalorian”
• A new season of the animated Star Wars series “Clone Wars”
• A live-action “Lady and the Tramp” movie
• Several live-action series spinning off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Who will want it
Disney+ will appeal most to anyone who loves Disney’s animated films, devours everything related to Star Wars, or sits staunchly on the Marvel side of the superhero universe. The $7 monthly subscription cost might also appeal to viewers who are looking to trim down their subscription bill — that’s $6 cheaper than Netflix’s HD plan.
But if you’re the type that tends not to get caught up in the hype of blockbuster films, Disney+ might not be the right service for you. While the service is promising “thousands of movies and series the world loves most,” it may lack the breadth of HBO Max’s “10,000 hours of premium content.” It’s much more of a targeted play for fans of its specific brands.
The biggest thread here is brand loyalty to original content: Star Wars fans will get their fix from Disney+, while “Westworld” enthusiasts should turn to HBO Max (or Go or Now), and anyone loyal to “The Crown” will need a Netflix subscription. HBO Max has the advantage of a wide array of brands, plus the reputation of quality that HBO itself has spent decades cultivating, which should be enough to nestle its way into viewers’ monthly bills.
But we’re approaching a point where people may have to choose their loyalties more carefully — which ones are worth the monthly cost? Or we could see a change in consumer behavior where streaming services are less of an ongoing subscription and more of a temporary cost whenever someone wants to jump into a new series, before bailing whenever they’re done watching. We’re not quite there yet, but it should be interesting to see how things change once these new services launch.