By Alex Johnson
Streaming services have officially become as confusing and frustrating as the cable packages they were intended to replace. When Netflix started streaming movies and TV shows in 2007, I thought we were finally seeing the future of content consumption. No longer would we have to buy 40 channels we did not want just to get access to one channel (or even just one show) that we did want. Now, content is just as spread out as it was in the cable-days, and “seeing everything” involves multiple, paid subscriptions.
HBO seems to miss the glory days being able to sell cable packages and confuse consumers. If you are a cable cutter (is that still a phrase?), you currently have two options to get HBO: The HBO App (formerly HBO Now) or HBO Max. One offers less content, one has weird restrictions, both are $14.99/mo. If you have cable you can also get the distinctly named app, “HBO”, and log in to watch the same content as the HBO App (formerly HBO Now) without signing up for another streaming service. Make sense?
HBO Max offers HBO original shows, movies on the HBO roster, Max exclusive content, content from network television channels like Cartoon Network, and more. That is a big step up from the HBO App, which only offers original shows and movies on the HBO roster.
At the moment, HBO Max is not available on the Amazon Firestick, one of the more popular streaming devices and the basis for many smart TVs. Roku devices, another common basis for smart TVs, will also not be able to see HBO Max in their app stores. This is due to ongoing negotiations, with Amazon seeming to be one of the bigger hurdles. This is also why the HBO App/HBO Now is being kept alive.
Is HBO worth it at all with this confusion? The HBO App/HBO Now? No, it is not. Compared to Max it is just lacking so much, if it were less than $10, I would say yes, but not as is. HBO Max, though, just might be.
HBO Max also includes all the classic and contemporary HBO originals; you will be able to find everything from “Sex and the City” to “Deadwood”, “Sopranos” to “Game of Thrones”. Getting access to HBO’s current broadcast roster is a big advantage too; there is a constant rotation of content, both old and new, to explore. Movies are clearly labeled as new and leaving soon, meaning you should not miss anything. Of course, this is the same content as the former HBO Now. A big draw of HBO Max, one that makes the $14.99 price tag hurt less, is the additional content.
HBO Max includes original, exclusive content, much like its competitor Netflix. A lot of this content is stand-up specials, but there are a couple of movies and series. Max also has a couple of exclusive deals, a stand-out (and possible attempt to compete with Disney+), is DC. While DC has been leaving something to be desired with many recent films, their animation studio has put out some great content (including the “Harley Quinn” series, which is a great take on the character) and many classic DC films, like the 1989 Tim Burton “Batman”, are included with this deal.
A lot of HBO Max’s “hodgepodge” content seems to have been recently pulled from other services too, notably, “Friends” (1994). Streaming rights deals change at rapid rates, but with Max scooping up shows and networks, they might be one to watch. HBO, and by extension HBO Max, has WarnerMedia at the helm, and they have a lot of content they could throw at Max to make it a success. If your favorite show has recently gone missing from your current services, look for it on Max. You might be able to ditch a couple of other subscriptions in favor of one.
Of course, there is the elephant in the room: how do you watch HBO Max? If you watch all your content on a laptop, desktop, or tablet, then HBO Max is an easier sell. If you use a Firestick, there are workarounds to get Max working, but keep in mind, this is not officially supported so there may be issues. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that is something you want to do (it is very easy if you choose this route). If your streaming device of choice does not support HBO Max, keep an eye out for it. For all the annoyances, it really does offer a lot to watch.