On one hand HBO Max is not Quibi. It doesn’t look like it is dying on the vine already less than 4 months into its existence. That is no cause for celebration though. Because HBO Max is also no Disney+. Disney+ had a product roll out of dreams seeing millions sign up on the first day and even better yet, its bundle and intra-promotional strategy led to more signups for Hulu and ESPN+ to boot. Disney hit a triple from the get go. Now to match what Disney+ did is a tall order for any other media company because Disney has that mix of the biggest library of family entertainment and the most popular brands in action adventure entertainment. Plus let’s face it, Baby Yoda (who cares what they officially call it).
But despite the fact that HBO Max can’t pool all of the same kinds of resources as Disney+ out of the gate there are some things that HBO did right from the start that have severely hampered its reception to the public.
Failure to address potentially problematic content
First of all, as covered in our recent article, HBO failed to learn from Disney+ the importance of addressing the elephant in the room right from the start. The problems HBO Max is facing with Gone With The Wind were so easy to see coming that it may as well have replaced the iconic cover art with a bulls eye. Truth be told, it was the first thing I launched on the service when I got it because I love the interplay with Rhett Butler and Scarlet and the musical score. But even I recognized the mistake HBO Max made this time around. And it is the one Disney avoided. Disney has a disclaimer in the description of certain content. For instance Dumbo. It reads
“This program is presented as originally created. It may contains outdated cultural depictions.”
Not having originals at launch
This is partially due to the Covid 19 pandemic that shut down film and TV production. But you know what? HBO Max was not hatched 5 months ago. And if the plan was to Finnish almost all of the highly anticipated new content that was supposed to set it appart from other services and mark the beginning of a new era was all supposed to wrap between March 2020 and now than that is more than bad luck. That is terrible awful planning. HBO Max was what AT&T had in mind when it set up the merger Warner with in the first place. Is the company really trying to say that dozens of major productions were planned in a tiny window of time? This is like a student doing their 3rd period homework in second period. This is Warner Media and AT&T. Not some stat up. The service should have been ready with some major heavy hitting content right from the start. And this doesn’t even begin to look at things that already exist that were that were not available.
Not being on Roku and Fire TV
Disney+ launched on computers, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung TV’s Android TV devices and others in the US at launch date. This insured that the service that it pushed for months could be had by its actual potential customer base. HBO Max actually launched without the biggest streaming platform in the US, Roku, in tow. On top of that, the second most popular streaming device platform in the US Fire TV also was not able to offer the app at launch. As of the writing of this piece (three weeks in) neither have the service. Yes as industry annalists we are aware that there a multiple and complicated reasons why the service has yet to appear on Roku and Fire TV. But this is the thing. What ever reason it has not happened yet doesn’t matter. To launch in this fashion was a huge mistake and it has infuriated fans who signed up for the service ahead of time and those who want to get in on it now. All of its AT&T customers who own Roku’s and Fire TV’s are left out in the cold unless they want to watch on their phones. Think McFly Think.
Confusing promotional offers with carriers and such
AT&T customers with certain data plans can get it for free, Traditional HBO subscribers can get it for free. Subscribers who pay for HBO via…….and so on and so forth. What? Warner media took all of its brand confusion and shook it up in a bowl and poured it on the floor with this one. It should not take a special guide to understand how to sign up for a streaming service. Want Netflix? Great go to Netflix.com give them a payment method and an email address and you have it. See how easy that is. But HBO Max had to be part of a synergistic relationship with other corporate brands. Therefore the AT&T tie in. And we are not even getting into the confusing offer via Hulu. This has led to unnecessary confusion.
HBO Should have made their plans for its other services obvious from the start
We pay very close attention to the streaming space. I mean this is The Streaming Advisor what else would one expect right? So when HBO, which already had a service for HBO TV subscribers (HBO GO) and a service for people without cable (HBO Now) we kind of expected that when HBO Max launched that it would replace both with a dual sign in for pay TV and non-pay TV subscribers. And guess what? That is the case. You can sign in as both a pay tv subscriber and as an app only subscriber. But the thing is that HBO Max did not make that obvious from the start. Executives never announced that the HBO Now app was going to be replaced leading critics to say “this is so confusing” Yet for those who have a device or TV capable of receiving HBO Max they found that HBO Now and is no longer offered as a choice. The same will likely happen with HBO Go once all of this nonsense with the platforms is done with. HBO Max is like an upgrade to both services. You’re welcome right. But of course at the moment HBO Max is unavailable on Roku and Fire TV so the HBO Now app is still active. It all leads to confusion as to what is out there and how to get it.
HBO Max will be removing almost every major DC Title from their service one month in
This of course is not a permanent move, but one of the big selling points of HBO Now is that it is the Home of Heros. The service prominently displays The Justice League front and center with other properties like the Big Bang Theory and Gone With The Wind. Well next month the Justice League will not be available. Sorry not sorry and besides that Wonder Woman, The 1990s Batman series, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Catwoman and Jonah Hex. HBO promises to rotate DC fare month by month. But there is a problem. There is not a particularly large library of DC live action content. So dropping the titles leaves a hole. What is coming in July, they haven’t said. Will it be the Christopher Reaves Superman movies? The Dark Knight series? Yes I know services pull and add titles all of the time. But they have to think this out better. It looks like a bait and switch to the general public. And there are a lot more people in the general public than there are connected TV and streaming content Annalists who understand distribution agreements. They should have never launched with such poor timing.