HBO Max will cost $15 a month and launch in May with shows, movies... and podcasts

HBO Max will battle Apple TV Plus at $5, launching Friday, and Disney Plus at $7, launching Nov. 12 -- not to mention Netflix's $13 most-popular tier.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
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HBO Max, the new HBO-anchored streaming service coming from AT&T's WarnerMedia, will cost $15 a month and launch in May in the US. It will have 10,000 hours of programming: everything on HBO, plus exclusive originals and a deeper catalog of licensed shows and movies. Existing members of HBO Now -- also $15 a month -- can switch over to HBO Max for free to unlock Max's bigger catalog, as can anyone who pays for HBO's traditional network through DirecTV or any AT&T services. But if you pay for regular HBO through your cable provider or other pay-TV companies, HBO Max doesn't have a deal for you yet. 

The details were unveiled Tuesday at WarnerMedia's investor day dedicated to unveiling HBO Max, at which the company also revealed that HBO has ordered a new Game of Thrones series, a prequel called House of the Dragon

HBO Max will start out as an ad-free, Netflix-like subscription video service, with all the content you get on regular HBO. On top of that, it will have a slate of about three dozen HBO Max original series and movies, plus an expanded back catalog of licensed shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, South Park, Doctor Who, Rick and Morty and more. Also, randomly, HBO Max will have select podcasts in its mobile app, so subscribers can listen to, for example, a podcast about the HBO series Chernobyl while on the go. 

Within the first year, HBO Max will introduce a tier with ads that lowers the price. At $15 a month, HBO Max is among the priciest streaming services out there. HBO Max will battle Apple TV Plus, which launches Friday at $5 a month. And Disney Plus, which launches in two weeks, is priced at only $7 with a gigantic catalog of shows, movies and originals. Even Netflix's most popular plan is cheaper, at $13.

The mobile app will also allow downloads to watch programming offline later, which was something that HBO's existing streaming apps (HBO Go and HBO Now) already allowed. The HBO Max app will allow profiles, including ones that are designed and age-gated for kids, and it will include recommendations and playlists by some of its stars. And the app will allow shared profiles, so it can reflect when several people in a household are watching the same thing together -- preventing data-driven recommendations from becoming isolated in particular accounts. 

AT&T is still in talks with other pay-TV providers like cable and satellite companies about offering HBO Max to their traditional HBO subscribers. 

In its first year, HBO Max will have 31 exclusive original programs, which will join the 38 originals from regular HBO that you can stream. Then, in its second year, HBO Max will amp up its exclusive original programming to 50 titles, again complementing 38 regular-HBO originals. 

It will also expand the ways to subscribe as time goes on. Within a year of launching, HBO Max will add another tier of service that lowers the price of a subscription by including advertising. Then "further down the road," HBO Max will incorporate live video with "unique live interactive special-event programs," distancing itself from the video-on-demand standard set by Netflix, said Bob Greenblatt, the chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and its direct-to-consumer streaming initiatives.

International expansion is in the works. AT&T is going to prioritize Latin America and Europe for HBO Max's initial international rollouts. The company said Latin America should get HBO Max in 2021. 

HBO Max will be AT&T's combatant in the so-called streaming wars, taking on Netflix, the dominant force in streaming with more than 150 million subscribers worldwide, as well as a crop of new streaming services launching in the next six months. Apple TV Plus goes live with nine titles Friday, followed quickly by Disney's high-profile offering, Disney Plus, on Nov. 12. NBCUniversal's Peacock streaming service is expected to go head-to-head with HBO Max early next year.

AT&T and WarnerMedia are betting big on HBO Max. AT&T on Monday predicted spending between $1.5 billion and $2 billion on HBO Max next year, followed by another $1 billion in both 2021 and 2022. It hopes the service will reach 79 million to 90 million subscribers by 2025, with 50 million in the US.

Watch this: HBO Max brings GoT-prequel House of the Dragon and Green Lantern show (The Daily Charge, 10/30/2019)

Originally published Oct. 29.
Update, Oct. 30: Adds more details of service. 

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