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Roku, HBO Max finally strike deal (yes, you'll be able to stream Wonder Woman 1984)

Rokus are among the most popular streaming devices in the US, but those boxes, sticks and TVs haven't supported HBO Max's app since its launch in May. That changed Thursday.

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
4 min read

HBO Max launched in May and has struggled to gain the same traction as Disney Plus. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Roku and HBO Max have reached a deal for Roku's popular lineup of streaming devices to support HBO Max's app, a breakthrough in their months-long standoff that will give millions of people the option to easily stream movies like Wonder Woman 1984The Matrix 4 and Dune in the coming days and months. HBO Max became available on Roku starting Thursday, making the service available little more than one week before the Wonder Woman sequel is set to stream the same day it hits the big screen at no extra cost to Max subscribers. 

For Roku users who already subscribe to the regular HBO app, that app is automatically updating to HBO Max. For those who need to know how to add HBO Max to their home screens, simple searches on Roku devices should bring it up; HBO Max is also located in the Roku channel store categories New & Notable and Movies & TV. 

Streaming has grown more popular than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, amplifying a long trend of people watching more video over the internet. But that has escalated new tensions between the most powerful TV app distributors -- the Rokus of the world -- and deep-pocketed media companies that are launching streaming apps. Both sides want to lock down control of the data, money and programming at the heart of your streaming activity so they could entrench themselves in positions of strength for the next era of television.

But that led to standoffs, like the one blacking out HBO Max's app from Roku since the service launched in May -- sticking streaming customers in the middle of their impasse. 

The pressure for HBO Max and Roku to reach a deal ratcheted higher earlier this month, when HBO Max announced it would stream all of Warner Bros.' new movies the same day as theatrical release, available to watch at home for subscribers at no added cost. Each film will be on $15-a-month HBO Max for one month, and then the movies will leave the streaming service to be exclusively in theaters for a period of time. That strategy begins Dec. 25, when Wonder Woman 1984 is slated to be the first movie released that way.  

Telecom giant AT&T owns both HBO Max and the Warner Bros. movie studio, through its WarnerMedia entertainment unit.

HBO Max streams everything on HBO's regular channel, plus original shows and movies and other licensed exclusives, like Friends, The Big Bang Theory and the beloved Studio Ghibli animated movies. But the plan to premiere big Warner Bros. movies on HBO Max was sure to supercharge interest in the service. 

HBO Max's absence from Roku (and, earlier, from Amazon Fire TV) likely crimped its popularity so far. Together, Amazon and Roku represent more than 70% of streaming devices in the US, according to Parks Associates. Though HBO Max was available to stream on other gadgets that stream video to TVs as well as mobile devices, the programming on HBO Max tends to the kind that audiences prefer to watch on the biggest screen in the house. Without Roku and Fire TV, HBO Max was hard to watch in most households that have streaming devices. 

And so far, HBO Max's popularity has been mixed, clearly paling in comparison with that of its competitor Disney Plus, which launched about six months earlier. About 29 million people are able to access HBO Max at no added cost because they already have regular HBO, but only a fraction of those have tried it out. HBO Max service had 8.6 million accounts as of October, a little more than four months after launch. To put that in context, Disney Plus reported more than 10 million signups in roughly 24 hours after its launch. 

Other big Warner Bros. movies set to come out on HBO Max the same day as in theaters include expected box-office heavyweights like Godzilla vs. Kong, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, and The Suicide Squad, James Gunn's latest take on that DC Comics crew. Retro revivals like Mortal Kombat and Space Jam: A New Legacy are on the slate too.

On Wednesday, the companies said the HBO Max app on Roku will not only let existing members stream everything on the service but also let would-be new subscribers sign up directly on their Roku devices. HBO Max uses Roku Pay, the device maker's custom payment system.

"We believe that all entertainment will be streamed and we are thrilled to partner with HBO Max to bring their incredible library of iconic entertainment brands and blockbuster slate of direct to streaming theatrical releases to the Roku households with more than 100 million people," Scott Rosenberg, Roku's senior vice president of platform business, said in a release. 

Tony Goncalves, WarnerMedia's chief revenue officer, said the company was likewise "thrilled" at the deal. "We're breaking new ground in the months ahead, and we can't wait to work with our longtime partners at Roku to build on our past successes and bring HBO Max's best-in-class quality entertainment to Roku's large and highly engaged audience," he said. 

Watch this: What's new to stream for December 2020