If you’re one of the many who’ve balked at the prospect of paying $15 a month for HBO Max, how does a cheaper, ad-supported version of the streaming service sound? There is a catch, however.
AT&T, the conglomerate that owns HBO Max parent WarnerMedia, has made no secret of its plans to unveil an ad-supported (or AVOD) version of its fledgling streaming service. Before HBO Max even launched, AT&T promised that a less expensive tier of the service—with ads—would follow the standard $15-a-month service.
On Friday, just ahead of its annual Investor Day event, AT&T spilled more of the beans, pegging June as the U.S. launch date for the ad-supported HBO Max.
AT&T has yet to announce how much the ad-driven HBO Max will cost, but it did announce (via The Streamable) that some key HBO Max content—day-and-date movie releases from Warner Bros.—won’t be included.
While there’s no official pricing for the AVOD flavor of HBO Max yet, we can take a guess by looking at such competitors as Hulu, Peacock, and Paramount+, which all offer both ad-supported and commercial-free options.
Both Hulu and Paramount+, for example, offer ad-supported tiers for $6 a month, or $60 a year. Peacock is a tad cheaper, serving up its AVOD Peacock “Premium” plan for $5 a month, or $50 a year.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who just so happened to be Hulu’s first chief exec, has promised that advertising on HBO Max will be “elegantly” rolled out, and that “people are going to be so excited about how thoughtful we’ve been about advertising.” (Personally, I find it improbable that anyone could get “excited” about ads on HBO Max no matter how elegantly they’ve been executed, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.)
AT&T sees an ad-supported version of HBO Max as just the ticket for juicing its subscriber base. About 17.5 million users had “activated” HBO Max as of late January, giving WarnerMedia a total of 41.5 million stateside HBO and HBO Max subscribers.
That’s not bad, but the figure pales next to Netflix’s 200 million subscribers and the amazing 100 million that Disney+ managed to scare up in a little over a year.
HBO Max is also still looking for its first breakout hit. While The Flight Attendant and Lovecraft County have both seen some positive buzz, neither have become the cultural touchstones that WandaVision and The Mandalorian have for Disney+, or The Crown and Stranger Things over at Netflix.
Of course, one of the biggest draws of the ad-free HBO Max is that Warner Bros.’s entire slate of 2021 movies will stream the same day they arrive in theaters. Those movies include Judas and the Black Messiah (an awards contender that’s out now), Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In The Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho and Matrix 4.
But as we learned on Friday, those “day-and-date” movies won’t be part of the ad-supported HBO Max. That means those who opt for the cheaper HBO Max tier will have to pony up to watch Neo’s latest adventures on the same day he warps into theaters.
Updated shortly after publication to add that the ad-supported version of HBO Max won’t include day-and-day theatrical releases.