HBO Max is the name of WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service, which is being built to compete with Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, and other collections of TV and movie programming.
WarnerMedia announced the name and several tentpole programs on Tuesday. Chief among them: The iconic sitcom “Friends” will be available exclusively on HBO Max starting next year.
WarnerMedia’s TV studio owns the rights to “Friends” and has been licensing the show to Netflix for years. By bringing it in-house, WarnerMedia is banking that “Friends” fans will migrate for a new streaming service.
But “Friends” and other so-called library shows are just one piece of HBO Max. The streaming service will also include brand-new shows, called “Max Originals,” and movies. As the name indicates, all of HBO’s existing programming will also be included.
WarnerMedia, the parent company of CNN, declined to comment on pricing plans. But HBO Max is expected to cost slightly more than the existing HBO Now streaming service, which is priced at $14.99 a month, significantly higher than Netflix, Hulu and the forthcoming Disney+ service.
The goal is to entice subscribers with a combination of past hits like “Friends” and buzzworthy new shows and films.
WarnerMedia said the new service “is anticipated to premiere with 10,000 hours of premium content.”
It is nothing short of a revolutionary change for WarnerMedia, which like other media companies has traditionally depended on distribution from others – cable companies, movie theater operators and the like.
Now WarnerMedia, Disney and other giants are establishing their own direct connections with customers with an eye toward Netflix’s huge subscriber base.
The forthcoming streaming service has been a top priority ever since AT&T took control of WarnerMedia, then known as Time Warner, last summer.
The plans initially called for a three-tiered service to launch in late 2019.
The tiered idea was later dropped in favor of a single product that will be sold alongside the existing HBO Now service. The launch window is now the spring of 2020.
Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer, said in a statement that the quality of “HBO’s world-class programming” will be “the guiding principle” for HBO Max.
Casey Bloys will continue to oversee programing at HBO, but with more money to invest in content; TNT, TBS and truTV chief Kevin Reilly orders original TV shows and movies for the new HBO Max service; and two other executives, Tony Goncalves and Andy Forssell, oversee the rollout and the marketing of HBO Max.
Reilly has been green-lighting new shows for the forthcoming streaming service for several months.
The series include “Dune: The Sisterhood,” “Tokyo Vice,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Love Life,” “Station Eleven,” “Made for Love,” and “Gremlins.”
WarnerMedia’s announcement on Tuesday also included word of what the company called “new exclusive movie production deals.” Director and writer Greg Berlanti will produce “an initial four movies focused in the young adult space” and Reese Witherspoon “will produce at least two films,” the company said.
Along with “Friends,” HBO Max will also be the only place to stream “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Pretty Little Liars” and the upcoming CW series “Batwoman” and “Katy Keene.”
The “Friends” deal garnered the most attention because it has been one of the most popular titles on Netflix in recent years.
Netflix tweeted on Tuesday, “We’re sorry to see Friends go to Warner’s streaming service at the beginning of 2020 (in The US). Thanks for the memories, gang.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix most recently paid Warner $80 million for the rights to stream “Friends” for one year.
According to the Journal, HBO Max “is paying $425 million to carry ‘Friends’ for five years starting in 2020, a person familiar with the terms said, in what was essentially a transaction inside WarnerMedia.