Max or Meh?

What HBO Max’s replacement means for streamers

As this issue goes out, we’re not far from HBO Max’s transformation to Max. The “new” streaming service will offer an expanded catalog at premium pricing. Naturally, the executives at Warner Bros. Discovery are happy about the change. But will it matter to their customers?

In this issue:

  • Introducing Max

  • What Max means to subscribers

  • How well Max competes

  • Meh for most of us?

Max: a quick introduction

Last month’s announcement sparked plenty of coverage, so I’ll just cover the highlights. Max combines HBO Max’s rotating catalog of movies and TV shows with “best-in-class” titles from Discovery’s reality-centric cable channels. The combined service will have three subscription tiers:

  • Max Ad-Lite ($9.99 monthly)

  • Max Ad Free ($15.99 monthly)

  • Max Ultimate Ad Free ($19.99 monthly)

The first two plans will stream at HD resolutions on two devices simultaneously. The Ultimate plan supports 4K resolution on four devices at the same time.

What it means for HBO Max and Discovery+ subscribers

As long as the app update goes smoothly, most of HBO Max’s current subscribers will probably be OK with the changes. Their subscription prices stay the same, and they get more content from the Discovery catalog.

Families may not like Max’s simultaneous streaming limits. With HBO Max, they could have three devices going at the same time. Max With Ads and Max Ad-Free only support two simultaneous streams. That seems unwise. Given the renewed focus on kid-friendly content and parental controls, families are more likely to need more device support, not less.

The loudest complaints may come from people who care about 4K Ultra HD content. Max reserves 4K as a premium feature for its most expensive plan — effectively raising rates by $5. To be fair, HBO Max 4K fans have probably already watched the movies they care about, considering the catalog of 4K content only includes 33 titles.

Max’s introduction may not matter to Discovery+ subscribers either. If they want the content in Max, they can sign up for a new Max account. But if they wanted that content, wouldn’t they already subscribe to HBO Max?

How does Max stack up in a tough streaming market?

The executives at Warner Bros. Discovery clearly have a high opinion of their product. Max is positioned as the premium on-demand streamer of choice and is priced at the top of an ultra-competitive market. Here’s a run-down of how Max’s pricing compares to the competition:

Versus ad-supported plans: Disney+ and Hulu charge $2 less, Netflix costs $3 less, and both Peacock and Paramount+ are $5 cheaper.

Versus ad-free plans: Both Paramount+ and Peacock are $6 cheaper. Disney+ is $5 cheaper, and Hulu’s ad-free plan is a dollar less. The Netflix comparison isn’t one-to-one. If you’re willing to settle for sub-1080p resolution, Netflix is $6 cheaper. For FullHD, Max and Netflix cost the same.

Versus premium plans: Max Ultimate is a hard sell. Most on-demand streamers that support 4K content include it with their standard plans. Max and Netflix are the only services that charge a 4K premium. At least Netflix can justify the higher price by pointing to its catalog of more than 2500 4K titles. Max? Not so much.

Our takeaway: From HBO Max to… Meh

Max has more to do with pleasing Wall Street than delighting customers. Warner Bros. Discovery executives need to justify the merger’s cost while showing analysts they have a fresh streaming strategy. But will it matter to people who watch? Not really.

I think most people subscribed to HBO Max will stick with Max, for the HBO-y and Max-y content. Getting access to the one or two Discovery shows we like (hello, Mythbusters) is a nice-to-have. But that’s all it is.

Even the 4K upcharge isn’t that big a deal. Max’s 4K catalog just isn’t that extensive. Sure, some 4K titles will be Max-exclusive. But many will either rotate to other services or be available as rentals. You’ll have to do your own math, but you could save by skipping Max Ultimate’s $4 monthly premium.

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The Watchlist

Right on the heels of Bridgerton, Hulu's The Great brings us even more regal drama, its third season landing on the service, Friday, May 12th.

Feeling more tired than usual lately? We’ve got you covered with NoonBrew, a delicious tea with little caffeine and full of superfoods to help aid energy, focus, digestion, deep sleep, and more. Get 10 free servings when you order and start feeling refreshed!*

Just ahead of Mother's Day, Jennifer Lopez stars in the action-packed film, The Mother, hitting Netflix interfaces, Friday, May 12th.

Apple TV+ brings us Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, following the actor's incredible life and career, on Friday, May 12th.

Fear of the Walking Dead stalks onto AMC and AMC+ for its 8th season premiere, Sunday, May 14th.

Following the recent trend of documentaries about famous women, Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me comes to Netflix, Tuesday, May 16th.

Sly himself stars in The Family Stallone, a reality series following him and his family, dropping on Paramount+, Wednesday, May 17th.

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