In a major announcement and landmark moment in the streaming wars, Warner Bros. Pictures announced Thursday that all of its slate of film releases for 2021 will be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.
HBO Max has been off to a rocky start since its launch in May, with HBO now owned by AT&T and the messaging around the new streaming app — which isn't available on Amazon or Roku yet, and which is different than the HBO Now app and which replaces the former HBO Go — completely bungled. The app's value proposition is a good one — you get all of HBO's content catalog along with a bunch of Warner Bros., DC Universe, and Cartoon Network titles all for $15/month. But people still don't understand why new HBO shows like The Flight Attendant are getting released on Max but not on Now, or on HBO itself.
And in a year when literally everyone is sitting at home looking for new shows to stream, AT&T really fucked up this rollout.
As TechCrunch reported in October, AT&T has been touting an increasing number of "activations" for HBO Max — with a total of 28.7 million customers who were "eligible" to view HBO Max content as of the third quarter of 2020. But this is a misleading figure, given that a lot of these are just regular HBO subscribers who get HBO Max bundled with their subscription through Comcast or whatever provider, and they may not have signed in to the app yet or even figured out that it exists. So it's not really clear how many people are watching HBO Max, or know that there's a Kaley Cuoco series on there that you can't see anywhere else, including HBO.
The Warner Bros. announcement should boost the fate of the app, which also may soon show up on Roku once the stalled negotiations over this finally move forward. (For now, there's a work-around involving AirPlay 2.)
As CNet reports, the first of the Warner releases to show up on HBO Max will be Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day. Then next year you will see the Dune remake, Godzilla vs. Kong, and a film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's first big Broadway hit, In the Heights, all getting theatrical releases alongside HBO Max releases.
A highly anticipated Friends reunion special, set to stream exclusively on HBO Max, remains on hold.