WarnerMedia revealed the name of its new streaming service, HBO Max, and said it will lay claim to exclusive streaming rights to the hit sitcom Friends, a blow to rival Netflix.
The service, which launches commercially in the spring of 2020, will be anchored in HBO’s premium content, as the name implies. But it also will feature exclusive originals, such as a one-hour thriller series starring The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco, and a ten-episode romantic anthology series featuring Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick.
Though original programming may attract subscribers, popular shows like Friends have the enduring, comfort-food appeal of the familiar. HBO Max will be home to all 236 episodes of Friends, the long-running situation comedy about a group of friends in Manhattan that debuted in 1994 but remains popular long after the last episode aired on NBC in 2004. Netflix paid a reported $100 million last December to keep Ross, Rachel and the rest of the crew on for another year.
WarnerMedia didn’t reveal pricing for Max. The network’s stand-alone subscription streaming service, HBO Now, costs $15, more than Netflix’s standard plan ($12.99) and the recently announced Disney+ streaming service ($6.99). It declined Forbes’ request for an interview.
The announcement follows a tumultuous period at WarnerMedia, as AT&T entertainment division's chief executive, John Stankey, reorganized business units and installed new leadership.
Eager to lay claim to a corner of the rapidly evolving streaming media landscape, Stankey announced plans last fall to launch a three-tiered service, with a variety of pricing and content offerings. He promised the service would debut in “beta” by the end of 2019—matching the planned launches of the Walt Disney Co.’s streaming service and the anticipated debut of Apple TV+. The newly christened HBO Max will exist alongside HBO Now and HBO Go, the streaming service offered free to the network’s TV subscribers.
Under the details made public yesterday, HBO Max will feature seven original series and draw from HBO’s programming slate, which includes an adaptation of Stephen King’s mystery, The Outsider, starring Ben Mendelsohn; Lovecraft Country, a horror series based on a novel by Matt Ruff, and executive produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams; and The Undoing, a psychological thriller from noted television producer David E. Kelley, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant.
The forthcoming service will also draw from Warner Bros. Television’s extensive library, claiming popular past shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Pretty Little Liars. It will also get dibs on the new shows Warner TV produces for The CW network, including the forthcoming DC Entertainment series Batwoman.
WarnerMedia said HBO Max reached exclusive deals with Hollywood producer Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow) and award-winning actress and producer Reese Witherspoon. Berlanti will produce an initial four movies focused in the young adult space, while Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine will produce at least two films.