AT&T pulled the trigger on its much-awaited HBO Max streaming service Wednesday, and despite a few minor hiccups, so far has managed to navigate what it sees as a transformational moment in the evolution of pay television relatively unscathed. But while that could change as the day progresses and more consumers attempt to access the more than 10,000 hours of original and library content available, there is still some confusion as to who gets the service for free and who has to pay.
HBO has about 35 million subscribers, most of whom get access to HBO Max on launch day. AT&T has said it expects about 50 million HBO Max customers by 2025.
HBO Max won’t be without competition. Aside from Netflix, which has about 70 million customers in the U.S. and Canada, The Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Plus launched in November with 10 million downloads on the first day. It now has about 36 million subscribers. Hulu, controlled by Disney, has about 32 million customers to its ad-supported service and NBCUniversal, which soft-launched its streaming service Peacock in April to better than expected results, is planning a wider rollout on July 15.
So far, the biggest complaints around the HBO Max launch is that HBO Now subscribers are finding their watch lists are not transferring to the new service.
While it seems like HBO customers would welcome a switch to HBO Max -- AT&T CEO John Stankey has called the dilemma “an IQ Test” for current HBO subscribers because HBO Max offers twice the content at the same price -- some recent data shows that HBO’s subscriber rolls could shrink.
According to a New York Times/Kantar survey, one in five current HBO and HBO Now subscribers said they would cancel service in the coming months. That is nearly three times the 7.4% who said they would cancel their Netflix subscriptions in the same time frame and more than double the 8.6% of Disney Plus customers who said the same. Amazon Prime Video customers, perhaps because their video subscription is an add-on to the free-shipping Amazon Prime service, has the lowest rate at 1.2%.
But that raises a lot of questions for a service upon which AT&T has squarely laid its hopes for the future of pay TV. HBO linear rates are around what HBO Max is charging, so getting them to convert to the new service won’t mean much in terms of additional revenue. And at the same time, cord-cutting reached its highest level in the first quarter -- nearly 2 million homes disconnected pay TV service -- which could present problems for a new product launch.
AT&T unveiled HBO Max on Oct. 29, and despite the enthusiasm of its executives, didn't really generate a lot of heat among the analyst community who initially saw the service as a higher-priced ($14.99 per month) less robust version of Netflix. While that attitude has changed somewhat in the succeeding months, there is still some uncertainty as to how many of HBO Max’s new customers will actually be paying for the service.
AT&T has said that existing AT&T wireless, internet and video (AT&T TV, DirecTV, U-Verse) customers would receive HBO Max for free. In addition, current subscribers to its HBO Now streaming service will get instant access to HBO Max at no additional cost and the HBO Now app will automatically update to the HBO Max app on supported devices. Current HBO linear subscribers who get their service and are directly billed through Cox, Hulu, Optimum, Charter Spectrum, Suddenlink, Verizon Fios TV and select members of the National Cable Television Cooperative ( WOW!, Atlantic Broadband, RCN, MCTV and hundreds of others) also have access to HBO Max at no extra cost. Customers can download the HBO Max app and then elect to access it on supported devices or via desktop and log in using their existing provider’s username and password to unlock all of HBO Max.
The service also is available through Microsoft XBox One and Sony Playstation 4 gaming consoles. Subscribers to HBO Max through those consoles will likely get HBO Max at no additional charge, but new customers will have to pay.
And new subscribers can sign up and pay for the service through HBOMax.com, any of the AT&T properties previously mentioned as well as Apple (iPhone, iPad, iPad Touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD), Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices, Google Play, Android phones, tablets and Android TV, Hulu, Samsung Smart TVs (models 2016-2020), Sony Android TVs (2016 models and later), and YouTube TV.
Additional devices will be updated here.