For the record, HBO Max is a streaming service from AT&T, which owns Warner Bros. and, of course, HBO. HBO Go, by contrast, is the app for people who subscribe to HBO through a cable or satellite provider. And HBO Now is a digital-only subscription version of HBO. HBO Max is, somehow, not HBO. It’s a new streaming service, like Disney+, offering both the back catalogs of HBO and Warner Bros. and new exclusives. The name, which emphasizes HBO and doesn’t alert people that this is a service where they can watch Friends, has been a marketing problem.
But the marketing problem, while hilarious, is not where the biggest concerns lie. The real problem is with AT&T offering HBO Max for free to customers with certain plans, not counting it against data caps for its mobile customers, and launching without support for certain TV devices.
Let’s go through what’s happening here piece by torturous piece. First: HBO Max is free if you are a subscriber to certain AT&T plans—high-speed home Internet, unlimited wireless plans, and premier DirectTV plans, to name a few. But Americans pay more for worse Internet than their peers in Europe and South Korea. With high-speed home Internet, most Americans have two or fewer choices. The most meaningful choice an AT&T home Internet subscriber in the U.S. makes is between expensive low-speed service or very expensive “high-speed” service.