As anticipated for months, Warner Media (the former TimeWarner) unveiled the new name for its new streaming service: HBO Max.
The new streaming service not only features HBO content past and present, but also most content Warner Media has to offer from its numerous brands such as DC, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, TBS, TNT, Warner Bros. Pictures, and more. In addition, Warner Bros. produced fare on The CW (which is half owns with CBS) will also be shown on the streaming service.
HBO Max plans an original program slate, including a new Gremlins series and numerous dramas, including four films produced by Greg Beranti and two by Resse Witherspoon.
But the biggest attraction to the service (and the only program anyone really cares about here) is Friends, an off-network sitcom currently streaming on Netflix which will now become exclusive to HBO Max come the spring of 2020 when the streaming service launches. HBO Max reportedly paid $425 million to Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution for streaming rights, who like HBO, share a corporate parent in AT&T.
Last year, Netflix paid $100 million to keep the popular series for at least one more year. Its departure certainly did not go unnoticed by the streaming giant:
The One Where We Have To Say Goodbye.
We’re sorry to see Friends go to Warner's streaming service at the beginning of 2020 (in The US). Thanks for the memories, gang ☕
— Netflix (@netflix) July 9, 2019
There were many Netflix subscribers who were upset by the news, even though you can find Friends on cable TV channels TBS and Nick And Nite and via local syndication (WGN-TV, who airs it weeknights at 12:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.) – not to mention the entire series is on DVD and on iTunes.
Warner Bros. didn’t exactly detail what other off-network or library programming would be on the service other than Pretty Little Liars and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, who successor-in-interest TimeWarner acquired the rights to the NBC-produced series in 1993 since NBC itself could not distribute the show at the time due to the then-fin-syn rules. Notably absent from the announcement were Chuck Lorre’s Warner Bros. shows, such as The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two And A Half Men.
Also not discussed was pricing points for the service, but it is expected to be significantly higher than the $7.99 a month Disney’s service is offering, expected to launch November 12. And no hometown discount if you are an HBO subscriber – HBO Max is going to be a standalone product and does not affect HBO Go or HBO Now, as both will continue. In other words, everyone pays for HBO Max.
Warner is one of several studios trying to combat the growing power of Netflix by launching competing streaming services and stripping the rights from them. Recently, NBC Universal announced it bought the rights to The Office from its own NBC Universal Television Distribution for its planned streaming service, also expected to launch next year. It’s all about scale, as the studios try to cash in on the streaming bonanza. The downside however, is for consumers who now are likely to pay for multiple services to get all the best content – which could easily top $100 or so a month, in addition to cable TV subscriptions a lot of households are still paying for (and the taxes that go along with it.)
So why the name HBO Max? The branding is a bit ridiculous, given most of the programming planned for the service has no connection to the premium channel – after all, the network doesn’t come across the minds of many when you think about Friends or Fresh Prince. But this has a lot to do with brand name recognition, and (sadly) for Warner Media, HBO is a name the most known to viewers – though “Warner Plus” or “WB Shield” (in reference to Warner Bros.’ logo) would have been much better than HBO Max. It’s clear the AT&T overlords value the HBO name than the Warner Bros. one, never mind it’s a brand that’s been around for over 90 years.
Or branding it HBO Max just gives them an excuse to jack up the price.