HBO Max's $10-a-month tier with ads to launch first week of June
A $5 discount, the cheaper tier will come days after HBO Max's Friends reunion special, but it won't include any Warner Bros. movies streaming the same day they hit theaters.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer 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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HBO Max's cheaper, ad-supported tier will cost $10 a month and launch in the first week of June, owner WarnerMedia said Wednesday. A $5 discount to HBO Max's ad-free subsciption, it'll arrive the week after -- possibly just days after -- HBO Max premieres its highly anticipated Friends reunion special on May 27. The new tier, called simply HBO Max with Ads, is likely to launch midweek, when HBO Max typically pushes out updates to its service.
But anyone subscribed to the cheaper tier will be locked out from watching the big-screen Warner Bros. movies that HBO Max starts streaming the same day they hit theaters. That means anyone wanting to stream In the Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Dune or The Matrix 4 as soon as they come out will have to level up to HBO Max's $15-a-month, ad-free tier.
Another missing feature on the cheaper tier: downloads. That means anyone on the $10 tier also will need a functioning mobile connection to watch anything on the go.
But the company said it's committed to having the fewest commercials of all ad-based streaming services. And it'll include unconventional ad formats, like ads that show up only when you pause whatever you're watching. HBO Max also plans for advertising that shows up as you browse or search for something to watch, called branded discovery, as well as ads that show up in what it's calling a brand block, when a single brand is the only one running ads on a block of content.
These nontraditional ad formats are important for HBO Max more so than other ad-supported services. The HBO brand and its programming have always leaned into the service's liberation from advertising and the creative freedom that allows. Not all programming on HBO Max originates with HBO; the service has licensed shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory to watch there too. But everything on regular HBO is on the streaming service too, and HBO Max has touted itself as having the kind of premium, sometimes-edgy programming that people have long associated with HBO itself.
Programs created without advertising as part of the equation don't have ad breaks built into their structure, and they also have more liberty to dive into edgier subjects and situations. That makes unconventional formats more crucial for Max than other ad-supported streamers, to avoid interrupting viewers in annoying ways and to keep brands from worrying that their marketing will be put next to something risque, what's known as "brand safety."
HBO Max launched a year ago as another splashy new service in the so-called streaming wars, a year-and-a-half period when media and technology giants rolled out their own big-budget services to take on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and the like. Just like Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and NBCUniversal's Peacock, HBO Max hopes its particular mix of shows, movies and originals will hook you on its vision for TV's future. But these corporate rivalries also affect how many services you must use -- and pay for -- to watch your favorite shows and movies online.