by Jason Snell
HBO Max arrives
The streaming wars continue to escalate, as AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max service arrived today, loaded with “Friends” and Looney Tunes cartoons and all of HBO’s series and some DC comics stuff and even the Harry Potter movies, thanks to a last-minute deal with NBCUniversal.
Basically, if you’ve got HBO and HBO GO or HBO NOW you’ve got HBO Max now—unless you’re subscribing to HBO via Amazon or Roku. No deal there (at least not yet). And if you subscribed to HBO via Apple’s Channels interface, that’s gone too.
Thanks to Comcast’s last-minute deal with WarnerMedia, I was able to try out the HBO Max app on my iPad and Apple TV today. Both appear to be new versions of the existing HBO NOW app, which makes sense since this new service subsumes the older, smaller HBO over-the-top subscription service.
The apps seem… fine, if not groundbreaking. Like HBO’s existing apps, HBO Max doesn’t offer descriptive video, has poor support for accessibility, and doesn’t support 4K HDR video. So it’s behind many of its competitors technically. I found that the Apple TV app tended to jump over some featured blocks of content when scrolling down, forcing me to scroll back to to select them. (Seems like a bug to me.)
As with Apple’s TV app and Apple TV+, it feels like all of the content from the core HBO service is a little too hidden from the rest of the app—I had to search and search to find “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and add it to my list of shows.
The HBO Max content story is a bit of a mess, too. Some of the originals from AT&T’s separate DC Universe service aren’t available at launch, which seems silly—do they expect us to subscribe to both HBO Max and DC Universe? Most of the DC TV series on The CW aren’t here, owing to that network’s deal with Netflix. It will probably take WarnerMedia and AT&T years to unravel all of its agreements with rival streaming services.
But with HBO Max here and Comcast/NBCUniversal’s Peacock currently in a soft-launch on Xfinity hardware only in advance of its public launch in July, we’re rapidly reaching the end of the multi-year period where everyone knows that all the media giants are coming for Netflix with their own streaming services—and entering the period where the battle is truly joined.
This will take years to resolve. Billions will be spent in the name of streaming supremacy. All I know is, I can watch “Doom Patrol” now, and these new Looney Tunes shorts look fun. We’ll see where this goes from here. And can I put in a plug for an original series set in the Harry Potter universe? It’s time.