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So do I have to pay for HBO Max, or what?

‘The Big Bang Theory’
“The Big Bang Theory,” with Jim Parsons, from left, Johnny Galecki and Kunal Nayyar, will be available on HBO Max.
(Michael Yarish / Warner Bros.)

HBO Max may be more expensive than other streaming offerings, at $14.99 a month, but for people who already pay for regular HBO, the new service should be a no-brainer.

At their Tuesday presentation for investors, WarnerMedia executives said many current HBO subscribers will be eligible to receive the newer, bigger service for no extra cost. That should theoretically go a long way toward helping the AT&T Inc.-owned service reach its goal of 50 million domestic subscribers for the service by the end of 2025.

The idea is that for people already paying to watch premium shows like “Watchmen” and “Euphoria,” getting all those seasons of “Friends” and “South Park” and classic Warner Bros. movies, essentially for free, will prove to be an enticing offer. The service will include 10,000 hours of programming, including 31 originals in its first year.

Sounds like a good deal right?

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Actually, it’s not so simple. Under the current terms, less than 30% of U.S. HBO subscribers will qualify for the freebie. Figuring out who actually qualifies has already prompted some bemused confusion online.

But before you go hire a CPA to navigate the issue, we’ll try to answer your questions here.

Here’s the basic question. I’m an HBO subscriber. Do I get HBO Max for free?

If you get HBO through an AT&T video service, then yes.

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AT&T pay TV customers who already pay for HBO are eligible for the service at no extra cost as soon as it launches in May. DirecTV is owned by AT&T, so its customers are eligible.

Basically, the easiest way to understand it is like this: Anyone who subscribes to HBO through an AT&T-owned service can receive HBO Max without paying extra.

Our guide to the original TV shows and movies, catalog titles, launch date, price and other features of WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, HBO Max.

What if I have HBO through another provider, like Verizon Fios, Xfinity or Spectrum?

That’s to be determined. WarnerMedia is currently in talks with other pay-TV distributors, with the goal of extending HBO Max deals to those providers’ customers. Those negotiations have only just started, and there’s no guarantee AT&T’s rivals will be keen on helping a competitor grow its streaming business. However, at Tuesday’s investor presentation, executives said they think rival pay-TV operators will want to work with them because of the quality of the product.

OK, how about my cord-cutter brother who subscribed to HBO Now last year? He already pays $15 a month for that.

Did he sign up directly through HBO Now’s website?

I have no idea. Does that matter?

Yes. People who pay HBO directly through HBONow.com will have free access to the new product. But there are a lot of people who signed up through Apple or Amazon Prime Video. For those people to get free HBO Max access, WarnerMedia would have to secure deals with those companies. That hasn’t happened yet.

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So how many people can actually get access to this service without paying extra?

About 10 million people. So that’s less than a third of the 35 million existing HBO subscribers in the U.S.

Got it. I know a lot of people who just share their HBO passwords with friends. That works too right?

That’s an ongoing issue for HBO and other streamers.

WarnerMedia Chief Executive John Stankey was asked about password sharing at the HBO Max event by an analyst, and he acknowledged the industry has been “loose” on that front and will explore ways to prevent abuse as the streaming market grows. However, he said that the company also does not want to be “punitive” with customers. It’s safe to expect increased enforcement of password sharing rules in the future.


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