WHAT IT'S ABOUT AT&T — which bought Time Warner almost exactly two years ago — will launch its ambitious streaming venture on May 27, and will include six so-called “Max Originals” like “The Not Too Late Show With Elmo” and romcom anthology, “Love Life." Dozens of originals were expected — including shows with big-name stars (Seth Rogen), reboots ("Gossip Girl," "The Boondocks") and franchises from established showrunners (Mindy Kaling, Greg Berlanti) — but the pandemic stopped Hollywood production. They'll arrive later. Also on board: HBO shows, some TBS and TNT series (and much else) while the greatest "library" in Hollywood also arrives Day 1: Hundreds of movies, cartoons, and TV series, including "Friends" and "The Big Bang Theory."
MY SAY Even with all those shows, even with that glorious vault, even with HBO and all the other stuff that's promised one of these days, HBO Max still looks troubled — at least from a distance. It's easy to see why.
Foremost, this new streaming service — just the latest in an endless conga line of them — appears to represent the imposition of one culture (AT&T) on another, or at least the imposition of one company that knows nothing about TV (again, AT&T) on one that knows everything about TV (Warner).
It looks like a mashup of concepts, genres, networks, shows, movies, documentaries, and veritable kitchen sinks (Elmo as talk show host? A sink if ever there was one.)
It's also a mashup that has the potential to confuse brands, and in turn, viewers, or "customers," as AT&T likes to call them.
Take the name. What is an "HBO Max" anyway? Perhaps another mashup, this of HBO with Cinemax? A shotgun marriage of upmarket with downmarket? Something conceivably better than HBO? "Max" does kind of imply that. Who knows.
Then, there are the many ramifications of this Franken-streaming service.
If AT&T determines — as it assuredly will — that originals drive subscription growth, will that then mean that the best content will eventually be funneled to HBO Max, at the expense of one of the most lustrous brands in the history of television, HBO?
Next, there's this whole one-stop-shop concept. Will subscribers look at this as some sort of ersatz cable lineup, where they can get cartoons, and kids shows, and repeats, and TBS originals, and Turner Classic Movies? (Do streaming subscribers think that way? Do we "think?")
Finally, there's the regrettable timing. Forget the industrywide shutdown, which has pushed original rollouts well into 2021. Forty million people are out of work. Fifteen bucks extra a month for this hodgepodge looks like a lot of money from where most of them are sitting.
OK, enough. Questions are easy. It's the answers that are hard — dependent on real-world experience, real-world behavior. Also, distances can be deceiving. Get a little closer and HBO Max looks better. Much of the content is spectacular. The spread is indeed vast. There is a little something for everyone — even lovers of kitchen sinks.
And maybe, just maybe, AT&T isn't as big and dumb as it appears to be. There are certainly a lot of smart people running this service. Maybe they know what they're doing.
Maybe. But if you want my advice, I wouldn't be shelling out fifteen bucks (twelve for those who sign up before launch day) just yet. That's real money, and unless you're desperate to see another "Friends' episode for the 99th time, it may be advisable to wait-and-see. After all, HBO Max isn't going anywhere. Yet.