AT&T rolls out ad-supported version of HBO Max

The cheaper tier of WarnerMedia's blockbuster streaming service will cost $10 a month, with no ads on HBO programming.
(Image: WarnerMedia/AT&T/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

AT&T is starting to roll out its cheaper version of HBO Max that will subsidize the lower price point with short commercial interruptions during shows and movies.

The $10 a month tier of service launches after months of speculation and development concerning AT&T’s plans for the blockbuster streaming service, which fuses HBO’s original programming and licensed movies with other content largely sourced from the WarnerMedia catalog of films and shows.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, AT&T executives said the cheaper version of HBO Max will be available to customers starting today. A special promotion is being offered to customer who agree to pre-pay for one year of HBO Max programming, which will cost $100 if streamers select the ad-supported option or $150 for those who don’t want their programs interrupted by ads.

Those who do opt for the ad-supported version shouldn’t experience many interruptions, executives said, touting WarnerMedia’s commitment to insert less than four minutes of commercials per hour. Due to contractual obligations with other distributors, shows that currently air on HBO — or have in the past — will not have commercials.

“Advertising is a time-tested way to reduce the cost of great entertainment and reach a wider audience,” Andy Forrsell, the general manager of HBO Max at AT&T WarnerMedia, said in a statement. “We’ve worked hard to create an elegant, tasteful ad experience that is respectful of great storytelling for those users who choose it, and which we’re confident will deliver for our advertising partners as well.”

Around three dozen brands have signed on to provide WarnerMedia with commercials for the cheaper version of HBO Max. AT&T executives say those brands will have to get creative with their ad messaging due to HBO Max’s commitment to keep commercial interruptions at a minimum.

The cheaper version of HBO Max is intended to draw additional interest to WarnerMedia’s premium streamer from customers who may have been put off by the high price point for the original version of HBO Max. At $15 a month, HBO Max was more expensive at launch than comparable services offered by the Walt Disney Company (Disney Plus), Comcast (Peacock) and ViacomCBS (Showtime, Paramount Plus). The price appeared to correlate to the normal monthly subscription of HBO’s cable and satellite networks, where providers typically charge anywhere from $15 a month to $20 a month for access to the multiplex service.

Price was one reason why HBO Max had a rocky start when AT&T launched it last year. The streaming service initially lacked support for Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices, making it unavailable on the two biggest streaming television platforms in the United States.

That situation was rectified in the months following its launch, but interest was still relatively low in the streaming service until AT&T executives announced plans to offer same-day theatrical releases to HBO Max subscribers as part of their subscription and without any additional fees.

Taken together, HBO and HBO Max have more than 44 million subscribers, according to the latest figures released by AT&T.  The company does not release separate figures for HBO Max and traditional cable and satellite subscriptions, though most subscribers who pay for HBO through a traditional pay TV distributor also have access to HBO Max.

While the cheaper version of HBO Max will offer many of the same programs as the commercial-free version, AT&T warned of some limitations customers will face if they opt for the lower cost tier of service.

The cheaper version will not include same-day theatrical releases of Warner Bros. movies, though executives said those films will eventually be offered on both tiers several months after the movies debut. The lower-cost tier will also not allow customers to download movies and shows for offline viewing; that feature is reserved for the more-expensive version of HBO Max.

Content on the cheaper version will be limited to a resolution of 1080p, or full high definition. Most HBO shows and movies are streamed at this resolution anyway, though a handful of newer programs have been offered in ultra high-definition (4K). Customers will have to upgrade in order to see higher-resolution content where it is offered.

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