Home Film HBO Max vs the Competition: Launching During a Pandemic & Upcoming Slates

HBO Max vs the Competition: Launching During a Pandemic & Upcoming Slates

by Jacob Fisher

HBO Max launched in a very different time compared to its competition. Although the COVID-19 pandemic raised the demand for streaming services to an all time high, HBO Max was not able to film its Friends reunion special for its launch slate. Signature content that would have without a doubt brought in many keen users.

Nevertheless, HBO Max launched with a soft lineup of original content. Their library of media was filled to the brim with highly demanded films and television shows. Their selection includes all 8 Harry Potter films, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, multiple DC films/ shows, the entire catalogue of HBO originals, Studio Ghibi films, and Looney Tunes cartoons among much more.

That being said, one current positive for HBO Max is that their originals are doing very well with The Not Too Late Show With Elmo and the new Looney Tunes Cartoons. They are said to be the most watched titles on the streaming service as of now. For a streaming service that will invest billions into original content, this can be very promising news for the company. People are actually widely invested in what they have to offer.

The revamped ‘Loony Tunes Cartoons’ original courtesy of HBO Max

This wide range of original content that is set to debut on the platform over the next few months include:

Karma – release date, 6/18/20

Adventure Time Distant Lands: BMO – release date, 6/25/20

Doom Patrol – release date, 6/25/20

Esme & Roy – release date, 6/25/20

Search Party – release date, 6/25/20

Close Enough – release date, 7/9/20

Expecting Amy – release date, 7/9/20

Frayed – release date, 7/30/20

The Dog House – release date, 7/30/20

House of Ho – release date, 7/30/20

Tig N’ Seek – release date, 7/30/20

An American Pickle – release date, 8/6/20

When discussing the upcoming slate of original content for HBO Max and how their productions have been affected by COVID-19, a spokesperson from the streaming service told us the following:

Like everyone in the Hollywood community, our productions were impacted by COVID-19, but fortunately, it didn’t have an effect on our launch slate through the fall.  Our first priority is to support our employees, our production partners, cast and crew. 

Some projects that were in production have gone on hiatus and may debut later than expected. For example, the production of the Friends reunion special, as previously reported, has been delayed from its March shoot date.  

Through it all, we’re still really busy: we’re remote editing, writers are writing, our animation division is thriving, we’re buying and announcing Max Originals and Acquisitions, and overall continuing to move forward.

A couple of great examples: We just announced Selena Gomez’s cooking show for HBO Max borne out of quarantine, and The Scoop, a feature documentary with CNN Films following female CNN reporters covering the 2020 presidential campaign trail, continued production as part of its news gathering operation.”

Even with HBO Max having a slow start with releasing originals, the streamer is set to release many anticipated movies and shows in 2021. This includes Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, Tokyo Vice, Aquaman: King of Atlantis, Americanah, The Boondocks revival, Station Eleven, DC Superhero High and Station Eleven among many more. 2020 will also see the launch of more HBO Max original shows including Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves and Kaley Cuoco’s The Flight Attendant.

‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai’ is an animated prequel series to the 1884 classic. Courtesy of HBO Max

Demand for streaming services is at an all time high with lockdown in place. This can be easily seen by the tremendous growth of Disney Plus during the pandemic. Disney’s streaming service has gained at least 4.5 million subscribers. This is partially due to Disney’s decision to offer certain titles early on the streaming service, including Onward, Frozen 2, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Disney+ isn’t the only streaming service in high demand as Netflix proceeds to parade its reign as the most popular streaming service across the globe. More demand has come to Netflix recently with its offerings of new ‘theatrical-like’ titles including Chris Hemsworth’s action-thriller Extraction, Issa Rae’s The Lovebirds, and Kris Pearn’s The Willoughbys. Upcoming titles include Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Jason Momoa’s Sweet Girl, David Dobkin’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard.

Netflix has also found success recently with its TV series catalogue with the recent additions of Tiger King and Avatar: The Last Airbender, which has helped the platform recover from the loss of Friends earlier this year.

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However, not all streaming services have thrived over the past few months. Quibi, a streaming service designed only for phones launched with a tepid response. Certain factors such as divisive original content and not being available on TV screens have made Quibi an undesirable product in comparison to its competitors.

When talking about launching HBO Max in such uncertain times, a spokesperson told us the following:

Entertainment has always been a wonderful form of escape. Now more than ever audiences are searching for ways to decompress and moments to shift their focus away from the serious and scary world around them. We are glad that HBO Max can provide viewers with a treasure-trove of high-quality entertainment from WarnerMedia’s world-class brands.

With the increased demand in streaming services has also come an increased demand in PVOD. Multiple studios have released films that were either in theaters just before COVID-19 or films that were intended to have theatrical releases onto PVOD. The trend begun with Universal Pictures who offered PVOD prices for The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt. They also scrapped the theatrical release for multiple films including Trolls: World Tour, which has led to a large dispute between Universal and AMC.

Warner Bros has dabbled into this game, releasing Birds of Prey and The Way Back onto PVOD after their theatrical releases were cut short. They also scrapped the theatrical release for Scoob! and opted to release the film on PVOD instead. A HBO Max spokesperson told us, “PVOD titles are not announced coming to HBO Max at this time”. There seems to be no concrete plans to introduce any of these films on the streaming service just yet however, I’ve heard that they are looking to put Scoob! on HBO Max by August.

It has not been all smooth sailing for streaming services during the pandemic. Disney Plus has had multiple productions halted including their Home Alone reboot (which will be set in the same universe as the original film), The Mighty Ducks, Loki, WandaVision, and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Additionally, multiple productions such as the Cassian Andor series have had their production starts also delayed.

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HBO Max has also fallen victim to production halts due to the pandemic. Most notably, their Friends reunion special got delayed from being a part of the launch slate. They are hoping to film the special in late Summer but with things consistently fluctuating, who knows what will happen.

Nevertheless, a HBO Max spokesperson maintains that for the most part, the COVID-19 pandemic did not affect their launch plans besides for the Friends reunion special:

“The launch of HBO Max remained on track! Our content strategy never wavered. We have 10,000 hours of programming – library, 3rd party acquisitions, Max Originals across all genres for all members of the household bundled with the HBO service.

Our HBO Max launch slate (day one and first three-month window) was set for some time and, thankfully, was mostly unaffected by COVID-19. With the exception of the unscripted Friends reunion special, which is delayed, the Max Originals that we debuted with were set for a long time and we feel confident with our Max Originals offering.”

Where Disney Plus has Star Wars and Marvel as their powerhouse franchises, HBO Max has DC. At launch, they released multiple iconic DC films including Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Batman Returns, Aquaman, and Joker among many more titles. The streaming service is also set to release Doom Patrol Season 2 beginning on June 25 with the first season already available on the service.

Courtesy of HBO Max

HBO Max has multiple DC projects coming over the course of the next 2 years including:

Zack Snyder’s Director’s Cut of Justice League Currently scheduled for a 2021 release. In 2017, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut became a passionate movement among fans on social media. From countless social media to press, it became a powerful global movement among cinephiles and comic book fans alike. Now that movement is becoming a reality.

Untitled DC J.J. Abrams Series Based on DC characters in the “Justice League Dark” Universe from J.J. Abrams.

Green Lantern One of the biggest shows Berlanti Productions has ever developed, from producers Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schecter.

Strange Adventures The series will explore the close-ended morality tales about the intersecting lives of mortals and superhumans. John Stephens will serve as showrunner.

Aquaman: King of AtlantisAn animated miniseries following the adventures of Aquaman as protector of the deep. Executive Producers: James Wan, Michael Clear, Rob Hackett and Sam Register. Showrunners/Co-Executive Producers: Victor Courtright and Marly Halpern-Graser.

DC Super Hero HighA half-hour comedy series following a group of students experiencing the fun and drama of adolescence at a boarding school for gifted kids, but none of them realize that someday they will become legendary DC Super Heroes. Elizabeth Banks will executive produce.

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HBO Max are also set to release 14 DC theatrical films onto the streaming service in the first year of launch, 6 are via the HBO service and 8 are acquired just for HBO Max. Every Batman and Superman movie from the last 40 years will cycle through.

HBO Max has recently received criticism for multiple DC films being planned to leave the platform on July 1 including fan favorites like Wonder Woman, Batman v Superman, and The Lego Batman Movie.

A representative for HBO Max told Observer that, “we have a collection of DC films that will rotate on the platform. We have a new batch coming in July and then another batch coming in August. And the batch that is on right now will be returning.”

Soon enough, we should know what DC films will be added to the streaming service in July 1. Though, it is understandable why fans may be disappointed with the cycle system that HBO Max has implemented with its content. Fans would seemingly prefer a system similar to Disney Plus where all films from the MCU stay on the streaming service after they are added.

UPDATE: After fan response, multiple DC movies will be staying on HBO Max including ‘Batman v Superman’, ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Suicide Squad’.

HBO Max has had a rough but decent start, with a strong library of content bolstered by a range of upcoming original content. However, the pricing for the streaming service has likely deterred some customers with HBO Max having a far higher price than competitors such as Disney Plus and Netflix.

Additionally, many customers have been largely disappointed that HBO Max cannot be used on Roku or Amazon which has greatly hindered the viewing opportunities for the streaming service.

That being said, we will likely not know whether these factors have negatively affected the numbers for HBO Max. Although statistics has been released for the streaming service from third party sources, a spokesperson from HBO Max told us that they, “do not have plans to release data/statistics at this time.” It is also unlikely that the streaming service will be released in more regions outside of the US this year.

By the end of 2020, once HBO Max has a fully fledged library of content alongside a jam-packed selection of original content, there will be more confidence with the streaming service being able to rival its competitors.

Follow EIC Jacob Fisher on Twitter: @CinematicBanter

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