It’s not HBO Max… it’s Max. That’s what subscribers to Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming service will discover when they fire up their smart TV devices on Tuesday.
The media giant first announced that name change at a press presentation in April, a move that had been expected ever since Discovery Inc. formally acquired HBO’s parent company, WarnerMedia from its previous owners, AT&T, one year ago in April 2022. “Last year was a year of coming together, a year of discovery,” Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav remarked at Max’s official unveiling. “And now, off we go.”
Launched during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, HBO Max was an ambitious attempt to bring together all of WarnerMedia’s many brands — from HBO and Warner Bros. Studios to Adult Swim and Turner Classics Movies — under one streaming umbrella, while also creating original series and documentaries that were exclusive to the service. But AT&T quickly soured on the media business and sold the company to Discovery in a $43 billion deal that merged the home of Tony Soprano with the residence of Dr. Pimple Popper.
Over the past year, there’s been plenty of speculation about how the two media companies — one of which has prestige TV coursing through its veins while the other is more famous for reality shows — would combine their wildly different content portfolios into a single service. But Zaslav clearly isn’t sweating any brand confusion. “This is our time,” he remarked, perhaps accidentally-on-purpose echoing the Warner Bros. ’80s favorite The Goonies. “Everything is possible, especially with the media assets, the storytelling IP and the amazing creative talent we have here at Warner Bros. Discovery.”
Zaslav also premiered the official tagline that will accompany Max’s launch: “The one to watch,” a phrase that seeks to establish the service — which will encompass HBO and Discovery shows as well as content made by other brands like Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Magnolia Network, TBS and TNT — as the natural alternative to streaming industry behemoths Disney+ and Netflix.
“Max is the one to watch because it’s home to shows that have a super-sized effect on people and culture,” he remarked, calling it the “streaming version of Must See TV.” That argument didn’t make Friends with Wall Street, though: The Hollywood Reporter noted that the Warner Bros. Discovery stock slipped by six percent after the company’s rebrand presentation.
With HBO Max officially in the history books, here’s everything you need to know about your new best friend, Max, from how much the new service costs to what you can expect to see — and not see — when you log in.
How do I sign up for Max?
If you’re already an HBO Max subscriber in the U.S., the good news is that you won’t have to. Most preexisting customers will find that Max app has automatically replaced HBO Max on their Rokus, Fire TVs, iPads or whatever other digital media player you use. But Warner Bros. Discovery advises that a certain portion of users will be prompted to download Max to complete the update. In either case, all of your previous data — watch history, payment information etc. — will seamlessly transfer from HBO Max to Max. So no need to re-bookmark The Sex Lives of College Girls or, if we’re going old school, John From Cincinnati, to make sure you finish watching those shows.
New domestic subscribers, meanwhile, can enroll at Max.com or through participating providers like app stores and TV and cable services like DirecTV and Verizon. (Check out the FAQ page on the official Max.com site for more intel.) While some subscribers reported login errors on launch day, Warner Bros. Discovery said that multiple “war rooms” were overseeing the rollout to ensure that the overall migration process was smooth. International audiences will have to wait a little bit longer to get on the Max train. Warner Bros. Discovery plans to roll the service out in Latin America later this year, with Europe and Asia to follow in 2024.
How much will Max cost?
Conveniently, it’s the same amount as your HBO Max subscription… at least for now. The ad-lite version with minimal commercial breaks is $9.99 per month and $99.99 per year, while the ad-free version remains $15.99 per month and $149.99 for the year. That fee buys you access to 35,000 hours of programming, a better video playback experience and personalization features that include profile avatars from some of the combined company’s signature offerings.
And a major subscription upgrade is also rolling out: For $19.99 per month ($199.99 per year) you can enroll in the Max Ultimate Ad-Free tier and watch Season 2 of House of the Dragon in 4K with Dolby Atmos sound quality. You’ll actually feel like those giant CGI lizards are in your living room.
Is Max replacing Discovery+ as well?
To borrow a line from a former president: If you like your Discovery+, you can keep your Discovery+ and its $4.99 per month price tag. But be warned: While reality favorites like 90 Day Fiancé, Dr. Pimple Popper and Fixer Upper will be available to Max subscribers, Succession and Peacemaker won’t pop up on Discovery+ — although Warner Bros. Discovery hopes to lure some of those subscribers over to the higher-priced Max tiers with regular offers of an upgrade.
But the company’s leaders also recognize that the core Discovery+ business is strong enough to leave untouched. “It is a profitable streaming service, so we don’t want to leave any profitable subscribers behind,” noted JB Perrette, CEO and President of Warner Bros. Discovery’s Global Streaming and Games division. That’s why new shows based on popular reality franchises — like Fixer Upper: The Hotel, Love & Translation from the 90 Day Fiancé makers and the Octavia Spencer-hosted true crime series Lost Women of Highway 20 — will be available on both Discovery+ and Max.
Is HBO going away?
Only from the name of the service. Otherwise, it’s business as usual at the prestige TV Emmy factory, which unveiled trailers for three new shows that will almost certainly be in awards contention as soon as they debut. Jodie Foster is starring in the latest iteration of HBO’s True Detective franchise, this one taking place in frozen, sunless Alaska. Meanwhile, Mare of Easttown star Kate Winslet ditches her “murder durder” Pennsylvania accent in favor of a more regal European voice in The Regime, a limited series set in a fictional authoritarian state. And lastly, Robert Downey Jr. teams up with South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook for The Sympathizer, a Vietnam War-era story based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Needless to say, HBO is also gearing up to mine more material from its most successful series ever: Game of Thrones. In addition to the sophomore season of House of the Dragon, HBO and Max content maestro Casey Bloys also announced a straight-to-series order for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight based on Westeros mastermind George R.R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg prequel novellas. The author will help oversee the new series, which takes place a century before the events of the mothership show and follows the rambunctious early adventures of a future commander and king respectively.
Will Max still be producing original shows?
If by “original shows” you mean series based on some of the company’s biggest IP… then yes! Bloys shared early footage of the first big Max series out of the (Bat) gate — The Penguin, a spin-off of Matt Reeves’s recent blockbuster reboot, The Batman, with Colin Farrell reprising his role as the waddling nightclub owner as he sets out to become “the new kingpin of Gotham.” Bloys also reminded the crowd that Max will play a central role in James Gunn and Peter Safran’s cross-media “Gods and Monsters” storyline for the next phase of the DC Universe, hosting five planned superhero shows including Waller and Paradise Lost. That reminds us — someone give Robin Wright a call about that Wonder Woman prequel already.
Outside of superhero content, Max is also in the midst of making Welcome to Derry — based on Stephen King’s It — and announced new series set in the world of The Conjuring and The Big Bang Theory. But their biggest IP bet by far is a decade-long series set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World that will readapt all seven of the original Harry Potter books with new actors in the roles of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Despite the controversy surrounding Rowling, the author will still be closely involved with the series which Bloys teased will offer “more in-depth stories” than were possible in the feature film series.
For the record there are some non-IP originals in the works at Max: Sebastian Maniscalco stars in How to Be a Bookie from Big Bang creator Chuck Lorre and former Olympian Shaun White gets The Last Dance treatment in the docuseries, The Last Run. And hey — if Gunn and Safran want a Green Lantern who can also snowboard, White’s a shoo-in for the role.
Will Westworld be returning to Max?
Left unmentioned is the fate of HBO Max shows that Warner Bros. Discovery already jettisoned from the platform and sold off to free streamers like Tubi and The Roku Channel. That list includes Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s pricey Westworld series, as well Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves and Joss Whedon’s The Nevers. Since those shows were sold off in the first place as a way to cut costs and recoup money on their high budgets, it’s unlikely that they’ll rejoin the Max fold anytime soon. Similarly, don’t hold your breath waiting for Max to pull a Snyder Cut and un-cancel the canceled Batgirl movie as that decision would erase the tax write-down Warner Bros. Discovery received when the streaming-only superhero film was buried in the Batcave. Maybe returning Batman Michael Keaton can get his pal Barry Allen to access the Speed Force and transport us all to a universe where we can watch Leslie Grace kicking butt on Max.
Will I be able to see The Flash on Max?
Feeling conflicted about paying movie theater prices to watch Ezra Miller’s solo run as DC’s resident speedster given the allegations against them? You’re not alone. In that case, you can wait to watch The Flash when it races onto Max in the fall. And if you skipped Shazam: Fury of the Gods at the multiplex, you’ll be able to stream Zachary Levi’s final adventure on Tuesday. But if you’re one of the millions of moviegoers suffering from superhero fatigue, don’t worry — Warner Bros. hits-in-waiting like Barbie and Dune: Chapter 2 will also be making their streaming debuts on Max after their theatrical runs wind down.
And Bloys made it clear that there won’t be any repeats of the infamous “Project Popcorn” experiment where expensive movies like The Suicide Squad and Godzilla vs. Kong debuted day-and-date on HBO Max and in theaters. “Films coming out of theaters are huge engagement drivers,” he noted, promising that Max will be the post-theatrical streaming home for 20 Warner Bros. movie a year.
What’s the biggest difference between HBO Max and Max?
As Dom Toretto would say… it’s all about family. Fresh off the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Hollywood is once again realizing the value in entertainment that parents and kids can enjoy together. According to Perrette, that’s the main reason why “HBO” was dropped from the streaming service’s name.
“It’s a brand that has been build over five decades to be the trendsetter in entertainment for adults,” he noted, emphasizing that Max’s interface would make family friendly content easier to find. “But it’s not exactly where parents would eagerly drop off their kids. Max will better curate our rich history of animation, children’s educational programming and blockbusters that the whole family can enjoy.”
As part of that family-focused rebrand, three new animated series were unveiled at the presentation: the Gremlins prequel, Secrets of the Mogwai; a Peter and the Wolf adaptation overseen by U2 frontman Bono; and Tiny Toons Looniversity, a revival of the much-loved ’90s afternoon babysitter Tiny Toon Adventures. Hey Max: If you really wanna be our new streaming best friend, you’ll greenlight a Taz-Mania reboot, pronto.
This story was originally published on April 12, 2023 and has been updated.
Max launches on May 23.