AT&T has sacrificed HBO at the altar of HBO Max.
The telecom giant unveiled the forthcoming streaming service — the centerpiece of its streaming-video strategy and the fruition of its $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner — at an investor presentation on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California on Tuesday.
The company announced it would charge $15 per month to subscribe to HBO Max, the same price it currently charges for HBO's standalone streaming service, HBO Now.
When HBO Max launches in May 2020, there will no longer be a compelling reason to subscribe directly to HBO.
HBO Max will hold HBO's entire premium library of movies, TV shows, and specials, from "Band of Brothers" to "Game of Thrones." It will also have programming from other WarnerMedia brands like Warner Bros. and TBS, licensed shows like "Friends" and "South Park," and original movies that are being created for the service. Nearly 70 original series are due to debut on the platform next year.
"Why wouldn't you want twice the content for the same price?" John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia and AT&T's president and chief operating officer, said at the event.
Stankey said he will be looking at whether subscribers sign up for HBO Now over Max as an "I.Q. test."
HBO will remain an independent network, led by its programming president Casey Bloys. ("Casey's job in life here is to make sure that the HBO brand and what it stands for remains intact as it's been know for all time," Stankey said.)
But all of HBO's new programming, including more than 30 series next year, will also go on HBO Max.
It'll be surrounded on the platform by children's cartoons, teen dramas, DC Universe movies, prank shows, and lots of other kinds of TV shows and movies. In short, HBO Max will start to look more like Netflix than HBO.
AT&T is trying its best to lure HBO's existing subscribers to HBO Max. HBO Now subscribers will get free access to Max. The 10 million HBO subscribers who access the network through AT&T will also get Max for free. And the company is in talks with other distributors to offer similar deals.
HBO's internal culture is also going through a transformation. Key members of the old guard who built the network into a premium-TV powerhouse have left the company since it was acquired by AT&T, including longtime CEO Richard Plepler.
In time, the HBO brand may become more synonymous with the Max platform than premium-TV network's boundary-pushing comedies and prestige dramas.