At the very least, it’s unfortunate timing. AT&T today rolled out HBO Max, what it hopes will be a serious competitor to Netflix – and a dozen other growing SVOD services – or at least a serious also ran.
At the very worst? Well, it’s too early to tell, but could this be another service that’s misjudged the value of its content? Maybe.
- At $15 a month it’s the most expensive service on the market.
- Its landing page includes – surprise – an image from Friends, a bunch of other reruns, old HBO content and a few new originals;
- While it’s available on a plethora of platforms, it hasn’t struck a deal yet with two of the most popular – Roku and Amazon, which have about 33% market share;
- But, if you’ve got an Apple TV or Chromecast (with combined market share of 7%) you’re in luck. You’ll also get HBO Max free (sort of), if you subscribe to pay-TV services including AT&T TV, DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, Cox, Optimum, Spectrum, Suddenlink and Verizon’s FiOS-TV. All of them will offer Max as a streaming service, not as a channel on your pay-TV service; and,
- Subscribe to the biggest cable pay-TV provider in the US, Comcast? Lucky you, Max and the cable operator just signed a distribution deal Wednesday morning.
Inspiring it is not, I’m afraid.
Is HBO Max another pandemic-crippled Quibi?
HBO Max isn’t likely to struggle as badly as Quibi – the much-ballyhooed service aimed at mobile users and small screens – launched just as the COVID-19 pandemic put everybody back in front of bigger screens.
In fact, Quibi’s big launch has been so soft that some of its largest advertisers, including PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch and Walmart want to revise their payment schedule because of low viewership, reports the Wall Street Journal.
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But launching with a price tag that’s nearly twice the entry level of Netflix and Amazon Prime (and three times that of Quibi’s) isn’t likely to foster rapid adoption, especially at a time when – for many – money is tight and the future uncertain.
Even HBO Max’s free trial – a lure that many services have seen better than 50% paid conversions from – is a little timid, just seven days at a time when other services are offering better deals because of the pandemic. And then that $15/mo. fee kicks in.
The bottom line
AT&T paid more than $85 billion for Time Warner and all of its content properties in 2018. It’s still trying to figure out how best to leverage it.
Unfortunately, it’s still thinking like a traditional pay-TV operator: Bundle a lot of stuff together and charge as much as you possibly can for it.
Compare that to Disney and it’s Disney+ product launch.
It, too, offered a bunch of library content, but it also rolled out a huge new piece of a tried-and-true franchise: The Mandalorian. A piece of original content that served to draw viewers back into the Star Wars franchise. And, the promise of more, high-quality content at the same level remains.
Will HBO Max be a hit? It isn’t likely to rival Netflix or Amazon (or Disney+) in its current iteration.
But AT&T has shown a willingness to change directions in the past – it purchased satellite pay-TV provider DirecTV to go big in that space after its U-verse service began to stall – and it’s tried a variety of iterations for its virtual pay-TV offering (albeit an alphabet soup that could be confusing).
It needs to recalculate the value proposition on its new offering, or it’ll be curbside.
Stay tuned and stay well.