Looking to streamline its offerings after critics have said they are complicated and difficult to navigate, even for existing customers, the company has also rebranded stand-alone service HBO Now to just HBO. The shift is expected to happen over the next few months.
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HBO Go, which launched in 2010, will be removed from primary distribution platforms on July 31 but some online access will continue for a few weeks after that. The unplugging of Go is only in the U.S. Internationally, it will continue to operate, at least for now.
The moves come two weeks after the debut of HBO Max, the company’s big bet on direct-to-consumer streaming, which has joined a field crowded with new entrants from Disney, Apple and NBCUniversal. HBO Max encompasses the full HBO offering as well as 10,000 hours of films and TV shows from Warner Bros., TCM, Cartoon Network and a host of other brands.
The former HBO Now, which hit the market in 2015 in a provocative early effort to explore alternatives to the pay-TV bundle, will still be offered to anyone interested in getting just the HBO part of HBO Max. The price point for both is the same, at $15 a month. That’s why AT&T CEO John Stankey last fall described it, not entirely sarcastically, as an “IQ test” for consumers trying to choose between the two.
“Now that HBO Max has launched and is widely distributed, we can implement some significant changes to our app offering in the U.S.,” the company said in a statement. “Most customers who have traditionally used HBO Go to stream HBO programming are now able to do so via HBO Max.”
A decade ago, HBO Go (which was engineered by BAMtech, now known as Disney Streaming Services) created a new approach for traditional cable networks trying to establish a presence in streaming. In 2007, Hulu was created and Netflix took its first steps in streaming library titles. But streaming was far from the norm. Cable networks were heavily invested in traditional distribution and pay-TV subscriber levels were still rising, so they devised an industry solution known as TV Everywhere. HBO Go was an early example of a TVE app.
As it streamlines its streaming offerings, WarnerMedia has still not reached distribution deals with two significant providers, Amazon Fire and Roku. Together, the two deliver streaming apps to about 80 million U.S. homes. WarnerMedia managed to reel off a series of deals with most other distributors, but has been at loggerheads with the two tech companies over control of viewer data. Amazon was not a launch partner of Disney for Disney+ but eventually the two struck a deal. Roku has increasingly driven tough bargains and had a carriage dispute with Fox earlier this year. While some streaming players have been content to let distribution partners like Amazon or Apple benefit from the data produced by their service, HBO Max is aiming to be controlled more fully by WarnerMedia.
No subscriber data has been supplied yet for HBO Max, but AT&T will release a progress report when it reports second-quarter earnings on July 23. Internal projections have been modest around the Max launch compared with Disney+, a leaner, cheaper offering that reached 54.5 million subscribers in just six months. COVID-19, while it has been a massive tailwind for streaming in general, also sidelined production, including the Friends reunion special that had been positioned as HBO Max’s marquee title.
WarnerMedia is targeting 50 million U.S. subscribers by 2025 and 75 million to 90 million globally. It begins with a head start given that most of HBO’s current pay-TV subscriber base of some 35 million has no-cost access to HBO Max. As with many streaming offerings, the most important information may end up being who actively watches it as opposed to how many households can technically access it.
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