Viewers of visual media can be forgiven for thinking that today’s “streaming” services have turned into a veritable deluge. Every other week it seems like I’m educating/warning people about another streaming service with a catalogue of original programming, an archive of old TV shows and a random selection of movies available on your mobile devices for a low monthly subscription fee. Since I didn’t talk about one last week, I guess I’m obliged to this week. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Apple TV+: Meet HBO Max.
Like a lot of Americans, you may be confused at this point. Isn’t HBO already a pay-per-view station full of movies, TV shows and original content? Sure. And can’t you already subscribe to HBO Now, a streaming service for portable devices that bypasses the need for cable or satellite? Yup. But HBO Max is a long-brewing corporate mash-up from AT&T-owned multinational mass media conglomerate WarnerMedia. Not only will it consist of HBO’s normal slate of movies, miniseries and TV shows—it will also have access to all of WarnerMedia’s corporate catalogue. Basically, whatever Disney doesn’t own, WarnerMedia does (HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TCM, Warner Bros, New Line, Crunchy Roll, Looney Tunes, The CW, DC Comics).
HBO Max, for example, will be the new home for the Warner Bros.-produced series “Friends”—now that the beloved ’90s sitcom is free from its $100 million dollar contract with Netflix. Also lined up: “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (which is owned by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution) and any Warner Bros.-produced dramas on The CW Network (like, for example, “Riverdale”). Throw in some Bugs Bunny cartoons, all the Nightmare On Elm Street films (from New Line Cinema) and stuff like “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (that’s TBS), and you’ve got a solid back catalogue on which to build.
In addition to everything WarnerMedia owns, HBO Max has signed contracts to re-air BBC shows including “Doctor Who,” “The Office,” “Top Gear” and “Luther.” The network also signed a deal with Japan’s Studio Ghibli to secure US streaming rights to all of its animated films (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, to name a few). These deals add some impressive weight to HBO Max’s lineup (while, at the same time, stealing these shows away from cable/streaming rivals).
As far as the new programming is concerned, the floodgates have already opened. Dozens of emails have been pouring into my inbox this week, touting HBO Max’s new projects. Director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) will adapt “Dune: The Sisterhood,” a series based on Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s sequel to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic. The classic 1984 horror-comedy Gremlins is being turned into an animated series. “The Ho’s” is a multigenerational docu-reality series about a rich Vietnamese-American family in Houston. Monica Lewinsky (yes, that Monica Lewinsky) executive produces “15 Minutes of Shame,” a documentary series about “the public shaming epidemic in our culture and our collective need to destroy one another.” “Brad and Gary Go To…” finds Hollywood power couple Brad Goreski and Gary Janetti traveling around the globe sampling international cuisine. The streaming service has also ordered up “Grease: Rydell High,” a musical spin-off which brings the 1978 film Grease to today’s post-“Glee” audiences.
There will be original movies on tap as well. Emmy-winning comedian Amy Schumer climbs on board with Expecting Amy, a documentary about the funny lady’s struggle to prepare for a stand-up comedy tour while pregnant. Melissa McCarthy (Spy, Bridesmaids) will star in Superintelligence, about an ordinary woman who is befriended by the world’s first “artificial intelligence with an attitude.”
As far as when we can get a look at HBO Max, WarnerMedia has pushed the premiere date several times and is now simply saying “spring 2020.” What will it cost the consumer? Given that HBO Now costs $15 a month, and HBO Max will include all of HBO’s streaming product (plus all that other stuff mentioned above), we can only assume that it will cost more than that. With Hulu starting at $6 a month, Disney+ banking on charging $6.99 a month and Netflix running $13 a month, HBO Max is looking kinda pricey. But what do you say, American consumers? Are you ready to fork out for one more monthly streaming service? It’s the last one. I swear. (It’s not. Not by a longshot.)