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HBO Gives Us A Clue, But We Still Can’t Solve The Puzzle

So AT&T (which we seem to call “WarnerMedia” when we like something they’re doing, and “AT&T” when we don’t) held a Media Day yesterday to explain HBO Max, and while they answered a couple of pressing questions, they left a few big ones still unanswered.

The biggest “solve” was that HBO Max was going to be $15/month, which was a dollar or two less than AT&T had originally suggested, though it still puts them high above everyone else, $5/month Apple and $7/month Disney in particular.

Given that Max is going to be the same price as Now, HBO’s current app, they will be transitioning Now users over to Max.

How that will happen was not explained—will there be an update of Now and boom it becomes Max? Or will the two apps exist simultaneously and users will have to download Max and re-enlist?

Nothing was said of HBO Go either, which was the most curious bit of all.

Go, in case you’d forgotten, is HBO’s OTT app for people who have HBO via their MVPD. It provides much of the same functionality as Now, only it’s free and it’s positioned as a perk for HBO’s 38 million MVPD subs.

Now the logical thing to do would seem to be to update Go so that it had Max content. Or at least a lot of Max content. None of which seems like it would interfere with the relationship between the MVPDs and their HBO-loving customers. 

Which then leads us to the next unanswered question: will there be shows on HBO Max that are not available on regular HBO? Or is Max just going to be all the additional Turner and other library content, including the much buzzed about Friends?

That’s important because if there are Big Important Game Of Thrones-level shows on Max that cable subscribers who just have plain old HBO can’t get to, wow, are they going to be pissed.

But if the only negative is they can’t watch endless episodes of Friends, it’s probably not a big deal.

While lots of Netflix subscribers watched Friends, and lots was made of the fact that lots of Netflix subscribers watched Friends, they watched it because they were done watching Stranger Things or Bojack Horseman or whatever originals they were interested in and Friends was a slightly fresher option than the endless reruns of American Dad or Family Guy they had been watching.

Not because they were smitten with the show.

So there’s that.

There’s also data.

As in if User 5672B (because it’s stripped of any personally identifiable information) subscribes to HBO via Comcast, then Comcast (and presumably Freewheel) still keeps all the data on that user.

But if User 5672B becomes an HBO Max subscriber via the app, then AT&T, in the form of Xandr, gets all that viewing data. Data they can possibly use to sell more targeted advertising when they launch ad-supported Max, but can definitely use in the interim to help drive tune-in for HBO Max and its new shows.

Marketing and PR are going to be critical weapons in what everyone else is calling “the Streaming Wars.”

Because if it looks like you’re gaining lots of subscribers, the buzz is going to help you win over lots more.

It will also convince the creative community—actors, writers, directors and showrunners, to work with you because they (or their agents) assume that because you have so many subscribers, lots of people will see their work.

If I had to guess, the main reason AT&T didn’t say anything about HBO Go or the 38 million MVPD subscribers (or at least the ones not subscribed through one of AT&T’s multiple pay TV services) is that they haven’t figured that part out yet, that they’re still negotiating.

In this instance the fact that AT&T owns both programming and distribution may be working against them, since the other MVPDs are probably betting that ad-supported HBO Max, when combined with AT&T TV Now, is just going to be a rival distributor, another vMVPD on the order of Hulu Live TV and they’re thinking they’re not really in a position right now to go helping their rivals.

So there’s that too.

Grab your popcorn, it will be at least a full year before this all plays out and a lot can happen in the interim.