AT&T Pivots HBO Max Pandemic Premiere Plan

With anticipated originals including a "Friends" reunion special delayed, WarnerMedia has had to pivot its HBO launch agenda. (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

Like the backers of Quibi and Peacock, AT&T and its WarnerMedia division decided to move forward with plans to launch their new big entry into the streaming wars, HBO Max, despite the fact that the global economy—and consumer habits—had radically changed from when they first announced deployment plans. 

Virtually overnight, the market has become full of paradoxes: WarnerMedia is selling a relatively pricey subscription video service into a U.S. economy that has gone, within weeks, from record high employment to Depression-level unemployment; amid the pandemic’s stay-at-home mandates, consumption of streaming video has reached astronomical levels; but production shutdowns have made delivery of original shows a non-starter in many cases

“It’s kind of a crazy time to be launching any product given the anxiety and the economic uncertainty that we’ve all been experiencing over the last months,” Chris Spadaccini, chief marketing officer of WarnerMedia Entertainment, told Adweek. “I don’t know if any marketer would choose to launch a new product in this environment, but people are streaming more content than ever and looking for an escape from reality. So in some ways, the timing and current climate could actually work to our advantage.”

Also read: HBO Max: Everything You Need to Know About the Big OTT Service AT&T Has Its Entire Future Riding On (No Pressure!)

In light of the pandemic, WarnerMedia condensed its original three-month marketing plan for HBO Max down to just one month, simplifying its messaging in the process. After focus group testing, the company chose to shy away from extensive messaging related to linear brands like TNT or TBS for fear of confusion, instead highlighting the quality of their programming overall—and previous plans to air TV spots during major sporting events like March Madness and the NCAA tournament were sidelined in favor of a more digital, streamlined approach. 

The service’s first sizzle reel trailer debuted late last month and tapped into consumers’ nostalgia for classic movies, such as The Wizard of Oz, and ’90s shows, such as Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, rather than focusing on original content, much of which is delayed due to the pandemic. Still, there will be more than 10,000 hours of content available when HBO Max launches, and WarnerMedia is banking on the hope that consumers will be happy revisiting their old favorites in this uncertain time instead of subscribing for just the Max Originals. 

That’s not to say there won’t be any original content available when HBO Max launches on May 27, however. In addition to the extensive library of existing content that will be available at launch—which includes everything available from HBO, such as fan-favorite shows Succession, Game of Thrones and Sex and the City as well as third-party titles from Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, DC, CNN, the Turner library Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth and Looney Tunes—HBO will premiere six Max Originals whose production schedules were seemingly unaffected by the pandemic.

The debut Max Originals skew slightly toward a younger audience, as WarnerMedia seeks to appeal to both adults and children with HBO Max. They include Love Life, a romantic comedy starring Anna Kendrick; Craftopia, a kids crafting competition series; brand-new Looney Tunes Cartoons; Legendary, a competition series about underground ballroom dancing; The Not Too Late Show with Elmo from Sesame Workshop; and On the Record, a feature documentary and Sundance 2020 Official Selection about sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Russell Simmons. 

Those looking forward to the return of popular franchises with the Game of Thrones prequel series, Adventure Time sequel series and Friends cast reunion will have to wait longer than anticipated due to the pandemic-related delays, but WarnerMedia is hoping HBO Max, with its tagline of “Where HBO Meets So Much More,” will offer enough non-HBO content in the meantime to increase launch-day subscriptions. 

Move to Animation

A substantial part of that "so much more" promised in HBO Max's tagline will include dubbed and subbed anime, as WarnerMedia has partnered with popular anime streaming service Crunchyroll to bring top series to subscribers at launch and in the future. Seventeen titles will be immediately available for streaming, including the first seasons of Kill La Kill and the Crunchyroll Original In/Spectre as well as the entire series of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Rurouni Kenshin

“The HBO brand is known for premiere content and innovative storytelling," said Crunchyroll's general manager, Joanne Waage. "By bringing series from Crunchyroll to HBO Max, we hope to introduce anime to a wider audience who appreciates compelling stories told through this dynamic medium.” 

This news comes across as a direct response to the success that streaming giant and HBO Max competitor Netflix has seen with its own anime offerings. With nearly 50 anime originals currently available to stream or in production, Netflix continues to invest heavily in this audience, and WarnerMedia hopes to appeal to a similar demographic with this latest announcement. “Together with HBO Max, we are delivering the maximum reach for these incredible anime series, and we can’t wait for new fans to fall in love with anime," said Waage. 

In addition to the 17 launch-day anime titles, subscribers can look forward to the release of megahits Death Note and Hunter x Hunter within HBO Max's first year of launch.

Ease of streaming, price drops sweeten the deal

Because of pandemic-related complications to their marketing strategy for HBO Max, WarnerMedia has announced a bevy of ways consumers can easily stream the content when the service launches on May 27. 

Those who are subscribed to HBO through AT&T TV, DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse, Hulu or Charter Spectrum, as well as HBO Now subscribers billed through HBO, Apple or Google Play, will get immediate access to HBO Max at no additional cost. And with some limited exceptions, those who are already subscribed to HBO on Hulu will also get immediate access to HBO Max on its launch day at no additional cost, while new or existing subscribers to Hulu (without HBO) will be able to add HBO Max directly through Hulu for $14.99 per month. 

Those who are new to HBO will be able to subscribe to HBO Max on or through one of WarnerMedia’s partners, which currently include AT&T, DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, Spectrum, Hulu, YouTube TV, Charter, Apple and Google Play.

“The availability of HBO Max across Android, Android TV, Chromebook and Google Chromecast devices and on Google Play adds to our growing list of distribution options that will be offered to customers at launch,” Rich Warren, president of WarnerMedia Distribution, said in a statement.

WarnerMedia is also offering a limited-time deal to those who pre-order HBO Max through Signing up for a 12-month subscription before May 27 will give the subscriber a discounted rate of $11.99 per month, saving them $3 per month, or $36 for that first year.