Well, the big day is here for HBO Max. Or . . . not. The WarnerMedia unit of AT&T decided that it couldn’t compete with Netflix (63 million U.S. subscribers) unless it massively upsized HBO (35 million) with billions of dollars’ worth of new programming and more library titles. So Warner bought back the rerun rights to (its own show) Friends, formerly a Netflix staple, and bragged that it would pay millions to get the original cast back together for a reunion special that appears to be the most expensive chat show ever conceived ($2.5 million to $3 million for each of the six actors). Launch day for this entertainment juggernaut was set earlier this spring for today. Subscribers to HBO Now, the over-the-top service for HBO viewers who cut the cord with their cable companies, were promised that they’d be given this treasure trove of additional programming gratis, with the price for the upgraded service remaining the same $14.99 a month we’ve been paying for plain HBO, and without even having to download a new app.
And what happened? Thanks to the coronavirus, the centerpiece event of the HBO Max launch, the Friends reunion, is not happening for a while. Oh, and the HBO Max service is only available to some HBO subscribers. If you get your HBO Now through Roku or Amazon Fire TV, you’re out of luck. HBO Max has not yet secured agreements with these companies to pass along its signal, nor with Dish Network/Sling TV. (A deal with Comcast XFinity was just announced after the service launched without this platform).
AT&T is feverishly negotiating behind the scenes to complete these deals, but for one of the world’s leading entertainment companies to fail to make these deals in time for a much-ballyhooed launch date is an embarrassment.
AT&T COO John Stankey recently declared, of Netflix, in that hyper-confident CEO style, “They are the enemy. We’re going to crush them.” Netflix must be giggling into its handkerchief right now.