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HBO Max sets out streaming stall

WarnerMedia has unveiled a host of new titles for HBO Max and revealed details of the direct-to-consumer (D2C) service’s launch date and pricing.

John Stankey

HBO Max will debut in the US in May 2020 with 10,000 hours of “curated premium content” drawn from across WarnerMedia’s brands and partnerships.

WarnerMedia parent company AT&T will immediately offer HBO Max to the roughly 10 million HBO subscribers on its distribution platforms at no additional charge, while non-HBO customers will be able to sign up for US$14.99 per month.

During its ‘WarnerMedia Day’ yesterday, when it also announced details of its Game of Thrones prequel for HBO, the company also announced new originals from Ridley Scott, Greg Berlanti, Mindy Kaling, Elizabeth Banks, Issa Rae, Conan O’Brien, Looney Tunes and Cartoon Network Studios.

“With this entire company coming together, we will have one of the most robust collections of premium streaming content that will appeal to all demographics in the household, and be able to achieve incredible scale and reach right out of the gate,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and D2C.

The company added that it was targeting 50 million domestic subscribers by year-end 2025, with this figure reaching up to 90 million in total when including Latin America – where it recently made moves to make HBO Max available – and Europe.

HBO Max will include the entire HBO service, bundled with new HBO Max originals that target young adults, kids and families.

It will draw content from WarnerMedia brands such as Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth and Looney Tunes. It will also offer a selection of third-party series and movies.

HBO Max originals announced yesterday include Strange Adventures, a DC Super Hero anthology series executive produced by Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Titans, Doom Patrol). It will feature characters from across the DC canon and will explore morality tales about the intersecting lives of mortals and superhumans.

Also from Berlanti Productions is a Green Lantern-inspired series that will introduce characters from the iconic comic in what WarnerMedia described as Berlanti’s biggest series yet.

Raised by Wolves, meanwhile, is a serialised sci-fi series executive produced and directed by Ridley Scott (The Martian, Blade Runner, Alien: Covenant) centering on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious planet.

Rap Sh*t (working title) comes from Issa Rae (Insecure, A Black Lady Sketch Show) and is a half-hour comedy series that follows a female rap group from outside of Miami trying to make it in the music industry.

College Girls (13×30′, working title) marks the latest series from Mindy Kaling (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Late Night, The Mindy Project, The Office) and is a single-camera comedy following three 18-year-old freshman roommates at college in Vermont who are equal parts lovable and infuriating.

The Fungies!, from Stephen Neary and Cartoon Network Studios, is a prehistoric comedy that explores Fungietown through the whimsical quests of a young student.

Tig N’ Seek, from Myke Chilian and Cartoon Network Studios, is about an eight-year-old and his gadget-building cat as they search for the lost items of Wee Gee City.

Tooned Out, meanwhile, is executive produced by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future), and is a half-hour, hybrid live-action and animated comedy.

Looney Tunes Cartoons will consist of 80 11-minute episodes and holiday-themed specials from Warner Bros Animation, featuring classic Looney Tunes characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Tasmanian Devil, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Jellystone is an animated children’s comedy series from Warner Bros Animation that will welcome viewers to the town of Jellystone, where their favourite Hanna-Barbera characters live, work, play and stir up trouble together.

DC Super Hero High is a half-hour comedy series executive produced by Elizabeth Banks (Charlie’s Angels, Pitch Perfect, Shrill) and following a group of students experiencing the fun and drama of adolescence at a boarding school for gifted kids.

These kids’ and family programmes join previously announced Adventure Time specials, Sesame Workshop shows and various unscripted originals.

HBO Max will also feature a series of five stand-up specials presented by talkshow host Conan O’Brien, who will front two specials featuring short sets from multiple up-and-coming comics while also curating one-hour sets from three comedians. In addition, HBO Max has purchased the rights to a one-hour special from comedian James Veitch.

Elsewhere, Bobbie Sue is a feature-length film starring Gina Rodriquez (Jane the Virgin). It centres on a headstrong young lawyer who lands a career-making case with an upper-crust law firm, only to realise she’s been hired for optics and not her expertise.

In addition to the new originals mentioned above, a number of classic and library titles will be added to HBO Max in its first year of operation.

These include South Park, Rick & Morty, The OC, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Robot Chicken, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, The Bachelor, Impractical Jokers, The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, Major Crimes, The Alienist, The West Wing, United Shades of America with Kamau Bell, This is Life with Lisa Ling and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

A collection of classics from the libraries of Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Hannah Barbara will also be available at launch.

In addition to series, specials and docs, HBO Max will offer 1,800 film titles at launch. These include blockbuster franchises from Warner Bros such as The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Gremlins and the Lego movies; plus every DC film from the past decade, including Aquaman and Joker; and every Batman and Superman movie from the last 40 years.

Throughout the year after its initial launch, HBO Max will roll out a variety of new features and functionalities it claims can not be found on any other streaming platforms.

These include ‘Recommended By Humans,’ which HBO Max said would combine human-powered discovery and analytics in novel ways to make it easier for viewers to quickly find the content they are passionate about. Talent and influencers will make recommendations to HBO Max users about content they love, in the form of short videos.

Within the first year of the streamer’s launch, WarnerMedia plans to expand the service to include an advertising-supported VoD option, offering consumers access to even more content, with more flexibility to manage the overall price value options on the platform.

The company has also announced plans to provide subscribers with live, interactive and special event programming in the future as it continues to build out and differentiate HBO Max.

AT&T also intends to expand HBO Max beyond the US, initially prioritising Latin America and Europe, where the company currently has ownership interest in or operates premium HBO networks, and has OTT services.

Significant investment in the streamer is planned, with an incremental investment of US$1.5-US$2bn in the partial year of 2020 and continued investment in following years.

“To build, launch and grow the best streaming platform available requires a major investment and total support. We’re making that commitment and putting the strength of our entire company behind this,” said John Stankey, AT&T chief operating officer and WarnerMedia CEO.

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