Here's how HBO Max will work for HBO and HBO Now subscribers next year

In May 2020, millions of existing HBO subscribers will get Max for free. Millions more will have to wait and see.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
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.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
David Katzmaier
Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

HBO Max will launch with a lot of shows in May.

HBO/Screenshot by Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

HBO Max, the latest Netflix rival that will cost $14.99 a month and launch in May 2020, will have pantsloads of TV shows and movies. Ten thousand hours worth, parent company AT&T said Tuesday, including exclusive new shows like the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, new episodes from HBO shows such as Westworld and Succession, and old favorites that don't register as HBO properties at all, such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory.

So what about existing HBO subscribers? Here's what we know so far.

HBO Now subscribers get upgraded to Max for free

HBO Now is HBO's standalone streaming service, which currently costs the same as HBO Max: $14.99 a month. In May, people who currently subscribe to HBO Now can switch to HBO Max to unlock Max's much bigger catalog for the same price. Nine million people currently pay for HBO Now.

According to HBO Max's FAQ, however, there's a catch. Only new and existing HBO Now subscribers who subscribe through hbonow.com and are billed by HBO are eligible for the free upgrade. The offer is "not currently available to HBO subscribers that obtain their subscriptions through third-party providers that are authorized to distribute the HBO Now service," for example Roku or Apple. The FAQ says users subscribed to those third-party providers should "stay tuned for more details" as the launch date approaches.

HBO subscribers via AT&T get Max for free

If you pay for the traditional HBO premium network via a pay TV package through AT&T, then HBO Max will be free. AT&T owns satellite broadcaster DirecTV, IPTV service U-verse, live TV streaming service AT&T TV Now and AT&T TV, and says 10 million current TV HBO subscribers will get Max for free. That also includes AT&T wireless users who can add HBO with certain unlimited plans.

Other HBO subscribers and HBO Go? We'll see

If you don't subscribe to HBO Now or an AT&T-owned provider, the situation is less clear. 

AT&T is still in talks with other pay TV providers about offering HBO Max to their traditional HBO subscribers. That means subscribers who get HBO from linear providers such as Comcast, Spectrum, Dish Network, as well as streamers like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video Channels, Apple TV Channels and The Roku Channel, will have to wait to see whether they too can get Max for free.

AT&T did say that during the transition to HBO Max, existing HBO-branded services will continue to be offered via cable and other traditional outlets. Those services include HBO Go, the app that currently allows existing HBO subscribers to stream HBO programming. In other words, AT&T isn't forcing customers to migrate to HBO Max, although eventually it expects them to do so naturally.

2019 TV shows you can't miss

See all photos