A week before the long-awaited launch of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, the company has locked distribution deals with seven partners, ranging from small cable operators to major gaming and smart-TV platforms.
Altice USA, Cox Communications, Microsoft Xbox, Samsung, Sony PlayStation, Verizon and the National Cable Television Cooperative have all signed on to offer HBO Max starting May 27. They join Charter Communications, Hulu, YouTube TV, Apple TV and AT&T’s own outlets, including DirecTV, in offering the $15-a-month streaming service. Three notable holdouts, for now, are Comcast, Amazon and Roku.
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The blitz of well-funded new entries into the streaming derby, with Apple TV+, Disney+, Peacock, Quibi and now HBO Max reaching the market in a six-month span, has been amplified by third-party distribution. Disney, for example, set a key pact with Verizon and NBCUniversal announced Cox as a launch partner for Peacock and anticipates broader adoption by pay-TV operators as a natural next step. The economics of streaming distribution represent a shift from the decades-old wholesale model in pay-TV that HBO spearheaded in the 1970s. Owning the customer relationship is the key objective.
AT&T CEO John Stankey acknowledged the lack of an Amazon agreement during an appearance at a Wall Street conference last week. “We feel really good about the distribution dynamic, the availability of the product,” he said. “Those that are HBO subscribers immediately move into Max. It’s going to be a really strong first day.”
Among the new partners, setups with Cox, Verizon, Altice and NCTC will enable millions of existing HBO subscribers to activate HBO Max accounts at no additional cost. The existing HBO offering is included in HBO Max, in addition to thousands of hours of additional programming, including Max originals, Warner Bros. films and off-network mainstays like South Park and Friends. For venues where customers have not been able to subscribe to HBO via a broader bundle, such as Samsung, Xbox and PlayStation, the new deals will simply allow customers to directly subscribe to Max through those ecosystems.
Momentum on the distribution front has been building as WarnerMedia drives toward its goal of reaching 75 million to 90 million global subscribers in the next five years. When executives presented plans for HBO Max to investors and press last October, they had no distribution deals beyond AT&T platforms, which account for roughly 10 million HBO subscribers who are eligible to turn on Max for free.
“The launch of HBO Max is an important milestone for our company, and we’re excited that these valued partners will be on board for the launch,” said Rich Warren, president of WarnerMedia Distribution. “Through our expansive distribution pipeline, millions of customers will have immediate access to a best-in-class streaming experience come May 27.”
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