Under new arrangements with Warner Bros Television and others, all 236 episodes of Friends — a longtime mainstay of Netflix — will come to the new service, as will an estimated rollout of 10,000 hours of programming at launch. WarnerMedia has said a beta version of HBO Max will be out by the end of 2019, with a full-bodied version in spring 2020. An ad-supported offering is also in the works, though subscription will be the first phase.
Pricing remains a key strategic question. Disney’s reveal in April of its Disney+ service at just $7 a month has set forth a challenge for many competitors. WarnerMedia is in a particular bind, with HBO’s relationships with pay-TV operators (who have partnered to develop the network over many decades) keeping the price of stand-alone service HBO Now at $15 a month. Most observers expect WarnerMedia to price HBO Max above the current level for HBO Now, though the company and its parent, AT&T, have not yet disclosed pricing details. It is also unclear how — or if — HBO Max will be differentiated from HBO Now, the stand-alone service that has racked up 8 million subscribers since its 2015 launch.
Disney, NBCUniversal and Apple are all preparing major new entrants in the streaming wars, a long-developing response to Netflix’s steady climb to more than 150 million global subscribers.
Last year, Netflix made a deal to keep Friends for one more year at a price pegged by sources at more than $80 million and an option for WarnerMedia to share the series. HBO Max will now get Friends reruns exclusively, starting in 2020, in a five-year deal reportedly worth in the neighborhood $425 million.
It follows the $500 million-plus pact NBCUniversal recently made to move The Office from Netflix to its upcoming streaming service.
Library shows were garner high scores in surveys, from Nielsen and other measurement firms, of what people watch on Netflix. After years of being content to license out their shows, companies are increasingly pulling their content back in, though the foregone revenue will have to be made up in subscriptions, an area in which few traditional companies have experience.
HBO Max will also be the SVOD home to Warner Bros TV’s new CW shows Batwoman and Katy Keene, a spinoff of Riverdale beginning with the fall 2019 season. The two series became available after the CW parents Warner Bros and CBS this past spring opted not to renew the output deal with Netflix for past seasons of CW series, starting with the newly picked up CW shows Batwoman, Katy Keene (WBTV) and Nancy Drew (CBS TV Studios).
HBO Max will not start running the full seasons of Batwoman and Katy Keene until 30 days before the start of their following season, under the terms of the CW’s distribution arrangement. Until then, they will be on the CW platforms as the network continues to have in-season streaming rights to its series.
Greg Berlanti, who is locked into a rich Warner Bros deal, is also going to be supplying four new movies for the service, and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine will produce at least two films.
“HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman, WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer. “HBO’s world-class programming leads the way, the quality of which will be the guiding principle for our new array of Max Originals, our exciting acquisitions, and the very best of the Warner Bros libraries, starting with the phenomenon that is Friends.”
Max Original series previously announced include:
- Dune: The Sisterhood, an adaptation of Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s book based in the world created by Frank Herbert’s book “Dune,” from director Denis Villeneuve
- Tokyo Vice, based on Jake Adelstein’s non-fiction first-hand account of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police beat starring Ansel Elgort
- The Flight Attendant, a one-hour thriller series based on the novel by Chris Bohjalian, which will star Kaley Cuoco, who is also executive producing alongside Greg Berlanti
- Love Life, a 10-episode half-hour romantic comedy anthology series, produced by Lionsgate Television, starring Pitch Perfect‘s star Anna Kendrick, who will also executive produce alongside Paul Feig
- Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic limited series based on Emily St. John Mandel’s international bestseller, adapted by Patrick Somerville and directed by Hiro Murai
- Made for Love, a 10-episode, half-hour, straight-to-series adaptation based on the tragicomic novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting, also from Somerville and directed by S.J. Clarkson
- Gremlins, an animated series from Warner Bros. Animation and Amblin Entertainment based on the original movie
Highlights of HBO programming previously announced for 2020 and 2021 include:
- Stephen King’s The Outsider, a dark mystery starring Ben Mendelsohn, produced and directed by Jason Bateman
- Lovecraft Country, a unique horror series based on a novel by Matt Ruff, written and executive produced by Misha Green, and executive produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams
- The Nevers, Joss Whedon’s new science fiction series starring Laura Donnelly
- The Gilded Age, the opulent world of 1885 New York from Downton Abbey‘s Julian Fellowes
- Avenue 5, high satire aboard a space-bound cruise ship from Armando Iannucci (Veep), starring Hugh Laurie and Josh Gad
- The Undoing, a psychological thriller from David E. Kelley, directed by Susanne Bier starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant
- The Plot Against America, reimagined history based on Phillip Roth’s novel written and executive produced by David Simon and EdBurns, starring Winona Ryder and John Turturro
- Perry Mason, the classic legal drama for a new generation, executive produced by Robert Downey, Jr. and Susan Downey, with Matthew Rhys in the title role
- I Know This Much Is True, a complex family drama starring Mark Ruffalo playing twin brothers, one of whom has schizophrenia, based on the best-selling novel by Wally Lamb, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance.