Whether your favorite show is Friends, you’re in love with Wonder Woman, or simply want to binge South Park for a few weeks, the first commercial for HBO Max is a reminder that you can only do so in one spot.
It’s a not so subtle reminder that AT&T’s WarnerMedia has spent the last 18 months spending billions of dollars on some of the most popular IP in entertainment to draw subscribers away from Netflix and Hulu, and over to HBO Max. The commercial opens with Friends, then Big Bang Theory, (shows whose rights AT&T spent hundreds of millions of dollars on) then Wonder Woman, and The Lego Movie. There’s a spot for The Matrix and South Park — not to mention highlights from popular shows from HBO, the strongest network HBO Max is relying on as it builds its own library of content. Notice that Harry Potter, easily one of WarnerMedia’s biggest franchises, isn’t in the cut. That’s because Harry Potter is licensed to NBCUniversal until 2025.
HBO Max’s new slogan seems to be, “Where HBO meets so much more.” The more, in this case, being classic movies from the Warner Bros. library, like Wizard of Oz. The point of the commercial is to remind people that HBO Max will be the first time all these shows (including HBO’s library) are on the same streaming service. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors at an event in 2019 that part of the marketing plan is to showcase how different HBO Max is from its competitors, noting, “This is not Netflix. This is not Disney. This is HBO Max.”
Eh. HBO Max is different in the sense that it has exclusive titles that won’t appear elsewhere, but Disney+, Netflix, and Hulu have that, too. The spot highlights how much IP it owns — like Disney did with its Disney+ marketing — but leaves out its classic titles. Warner Bros., like Disney, has a rich catalog of films spanning decades. That’s something Netflix and Hulu can’t offer exclusively because their studios are still relatively new. Although there are hints of classics (Casablanca makes an appearance), the majority of the focus is the big IP franchises it owns — and the titles WarnerMedia spent a ton of money on getting back.
Well, that makes sense. AT&T reported last month that its WarnerMedia division lost more than $1 billion in revenue due to investment in HBO Max. Those losses were specifically due to “HBO Max investments in the form of foregone WarnerMedia content licensing revenues.” AT&T took a massive hit in revenue by not licensing its original titles to competitors like Netflix and Hulu. Why would they? The goal is to bring its top IP over to HBO Max as exclusive offers to reel in new subscribers. AT&T is also planning to invest around $4 billion over the next few years into Max in order to compete with streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and Apple TV Plus.
Which leads us to the other thing missing from the commercial: we don’t get a look at the incoming slate of exclusive series and films being made specifically for HBO Max. WarnerMedia has launched an entire new studio to simply focus on making mid-budget movies for HBO Max, and there are a plethora of shows underway. Many of those shows, like a reboot of Gossip Girl, are currently in production. Others have just received orders, meaning there isn’t anything to show just yet. Expect more footage of those series and films closer to launch date.
HBO Max is set to launch in May for $14.99 a month. An ad-supported tier will reportedly launch in 2021. Existing HBO subscribers on AT&T (approximately 10 million) and HBO Now direct billing subscribers will get HBO Max for free. Customers who subscribe to AT&T’s premium video, mobile and broadband packages will be offered bundles at launch with HBO Max at no additional cost.